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February 26, 2015 Practice Points

The Last Frontier Gets a Bit Wilder

Alaska becomes the third state to legalize marijuana use, allowing possession for those over the age of 21.

By Justin L. Heather

On February 24, Alaska joined Colorado and Washington state as the third state legalize marijuana use. Voters approved the Alaska Marijuana Legalization ballot measure in November with 53 percent of voters in favor of the initiative, and legalization became official earlier this week. The law allows for the use of marijuana by those 21 or older, but provides limits similar to those in Colorado and Washington.

Under Alaska law, people may possess no more than one (1) ounce on their person and may not harvest more than four (4) ounces in their home. The law prohibits the consumption of marijuana in public and driving under the influence continues to carry potential criminal penalties. The law is not yet fully implemented, but the regulatory regime envisions the sale of cannabis in shops similar to those found in Colorado, to which Alaska Statute 17.30.020 (Controlled Substances) would not apply.

On the other hand, marijuana remains classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic under federal law. Although 23 states continue to prohibit the use marijuana in any form, the remaining states have either decriminalized possession or allowed for medicinal use. Indeed, as noted in January, Nebraska and Oklahoma are currently pursuing legal action against Colorado’s legalization. The conflict between state and federal law with respect to possession and use will continue to be an issue until the federal government clarifies matters through judicial opinion, legislation, or enforcement action.

Keywords: litigation, Alaska, legalization, marijuana, controlled substance, young lawyers

— Justin L. Heather, YAC Content Manager, The Quinlan Law Firm LLC, Chicago, IL

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