How Much Weed Can You Actually Smoke In Alaska? The Hazy History (And Current Confusion) of Alaska’s Pot Laws
Colorado and Washington are getting a lot of press lately for their newly legalized marijuana… but what about Alaska? As it turns out, Alaska has had legal/not legal pot for many years, although this might change in a few months.
The Washington Post recently revealed that Alaska legalized pot 39 years ago in the heady days of 1975. However, its laws regarding possession are described as “complicated” and “confusing.” Here are a few facts that break down the rules, regulations and constantly shifting laws that currently define Alaska’s relationship to marijuana.
The ‘70s: Dawn of A New Era
Just how much weed can you have in Alaska? That depends on the amount, your intent, how much you’re growing and where you physically possess it. (Exciting, I know!)
Let’s take a trip back in time to Alaska in 1972. According to the Alaska Dispatch News, an attorney named Irwin Ravin was pulled over for a broken taillight (a stunt he purportedly pulled on purpose) and was found to be the proud owner of some drugs — specifically, marijuana. After being written a ticket, Ravin refused to sign it, and was subsequently arrested. He went to court and in the case of Ravin v. State claimed that “first, that there is no legitimate state interest in prohibiting possession of marijuana by adults for personal use, in view of the right to privacy; and secondly, that the statutory classification of marijuana as a dangerous drug, while use of alcohol and tobacco is not prohibited, denies him due process and equal protection of law.”
Marijuana laws had been officially challenged. Three years later, in 1975, Alaska’s State Legislature voted to decriminalize the drug, resulting in a fine of no more than $100 if a person was caught with one ounce or less in public or any amount in their own home, although things are already starting to get complicated, as Ballotpedia claims that in fact, only four ounces or less was legal in the home.
In the early ‘80s, the fine was eliminated.
The 1990s Do Not Approve Of The ‘70s
To the presumed sadness of many Alaskans, November of 1990 saw a new law that made it illegal to possess or smoke weed in one’s home. The Alaska Dispatch News writes that less than eight ounces could now carry a fine of $1,000 and a 90-day jail sentence.
However, in 1998, medical marijuana became legal, although this law draw criticism for its limits: one ounce of “usable” marijuana and six plants, only half of which could be flowering. There were few options for Alaskans to obtain anything legally.
Trying And Failing And Trying Again
Alaskans tried to legalize weed to pre-1990s standards in both 2000 and 2004 to no avail. In 2006, then-Governor Frank Murkowski made the possession of one to four ounces of pot punishable by up to a year in jail and classified it as a misdemeanor.
What often gets left out of this timeline, though, is that in 2003, the case of Noy v. State led to the Alaska Court of Appeals overturning the 1990 law and reaffirming the 1975 one, making four ounces of weed legal in the home once again.
This Is Where It Gets Complicated
NORML, otherwise known as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, has a useful database on every U.S. state and their marijuana laws. According to NORML, the legal and illegal amount of weed are as follows:
Possessing less than four ounces in your private Alaskan residence carries no penalty. No fine, no jail time, no prescription for medical marijuana needed. Simple, right?
Possessing less than four ounces outside of the home, however, is a different story. Less than one ounce is a misdemeanor that can earn you 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000; having between one and four ounces could lead to a year in jail, and, oddly, a smaller fine of up to $1,000.
More than four ounces (both inside and outside the home) will send your weed-possessing self to jail for up to five years, as well as slap you with a fine of up to $50,000.
Once again, Alaska’s laws regarding in-home weed are very liberal. According to NORML, Alaskans can grow less than 25 marijuana plants in their homes with no penalty. However, if you cultivate “one ounce or more” (presumably for sale, although this is honestly somewhat difficult to figure out), you can be sent to jail for five years and fined up to $1,000.
What’s Your Intent?
Using small amounts is fine, as long you’re doing it in a classy, refined fashion inside your own house; selling it is not. Sale, delivery or personal use with intent to distribute leads to anywhere from one to 10 years in prison and fines of $1,000 to $100,000, depending on the amount sold and the age of the buyer.
The Future of Alaskan Weed
So where does this leave Alaskans? In a kind of confusing place made even more confusing by the fact that marijuana is still illegal under federal law.
November may see a different state of affairs, however. A vote on a proposed law (Ballot Measure 2) will decide whether or not marijuana will be legal to people aged 21 and older — up to one ounce of weed and six plants, that is. This would be a cut-and-dried law that makes possession of certain amounts of the drug flat-out legal, regardless of where it is physically located (you still wouldn’t be able to smoke it in public, though).
This bill also proposes regulating and taxing the “production, sale and use” of pot in Alaska. According to the Alaska Dispatch News, if the law passes, it would create a regulatory board for marijuana that might lead to it being regulated just like alcohol; weed would also be taxed at $50 an ounce.
The November 4 vote will decide whether Alaska will enter a more simple age of clearly defined laws or continue to flail uncertainly in its current grey area. To flail or not to flail: that is the question.