Alaska

Our Guide to Alaska Marijuana Laws

On November 4, 2014, with the passage of Measure 2, the state of Alaska voted to legalize the possession, consumption, cultivation, and recreational sale of marijuana within its borders. That same evening, voters in Oregon and The District of Columbia passed similar measures. This put all 3 in the company of 2012 trailblazers Colorado and Washington as being among the first states to allow adults access to recreational marijuana via a state-licensed retail system.

Read on to learn what has happened in the years since and how to be a law-abiding cannabis user in The Last Frontier.

How Alaska Got Legal

You might not view Alaska as being particularly progressive, but they have long been a pioneer in ending Prohibition. Well before becoming the 49th state in the union in 1959, residents of Alaska were recognized as people who placed extraordinary value on individualism and who fiercely protected their right to privacy. This independent spirit extended to marijuana use, as evidenced by the fact that the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that adults could possess up to 4 ounces of marijuana as early as 1975.

In addition, Alaska is the birthplace of one of the most prized marijuana strains in the world called Matanuska Thunderfuck. This particularly potent strain may be one reason that adults in Alaska smoke more marijuana than in any other state.

Marijuana Law Milestones
  • 1972: The Alaska legislature amends the state constitution to guarantee each individual’s right to privacy.
    • Based on this constitutional amendment, criminal-defense attorney Irwin Ravin challenged the illegality of marijuana possession after being arrested in Homer while carrying a small amount. You can read more about Ravin in this Atlantic cartoon.
  • 1975: Ravin’s case works its way through the legal system and finally reaches the Alaska Supreme Court.
    • The Supreme Court rules that a citizen’s right to privacy should take precedence over laws against marijuana.
    • This ruling legalizes possession of marijuana in residences when it is intended for personal consumption.
    • Adults in Alaska could now possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana in their homes.
  • 1982: The amount of marijuana Alaskans can legally possess in the home is increased from 1 ounce to 4 ounces.
  • 1990: Alaska takes a step backwards when it passes a new initiative making all possession of marijuana criminal, with possible penalties of up to 90 days in jail and/or up to a $1000 fine.
  • 1998: Alaska voters choose to legalize medical marijuana.
  • 2000: A ballot measure that would decriminalize marijuana fails at the polls.
  • 2004: A second decriminalization measure fails to garner enough votes to pass.
  • 2006: The state attorney general announces he will not enforce criminal penalties for possession of up to 4 ounces of marijuana.
    • The governor downgrades possession of 1-4 ounces from a felony to a misdemeanor.
  • November 4, 2014: Ballot Measure 2 is passed in Alaska by 52% of voters, legalizing marijuana for recreational use by adults.
    • We’ll explain the ins and outs of the law later, but basically:
      • Measure 2 legalizes the possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and over, and
      • Creates a legal recreational industry overseen by the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board
  • February 24, 2015: Measures passed in the November 2014 election are finally enacted. Legalization becomes official in Alaska.
    • It is now legal for adults 21 and over to possess and consume marijuana.
The Steps to Legalization

After passage of Measure 2 in 2014, Alaskans had to wait for nearly 2 years before the first recreational marijuana stores finally opened for business in 2016. Here’s how things unfolded over that time span and how they’ve progressed since.

  • November 4, 2014: Alaska voters pass Measure 2, legalizing marijuana in the state.
  • November 26, 2014: 2014 election results are certified by the Alaska Division of Elections.
    • And so begins the 90-day countdown until ballot measures that were passed–including Measure 2–are enacted.
    • This is a traditional time period in which the state government prepares to accommodate changes in the law made by voters.
  • February 24, 2015: Measures 2, passed in the November election, is enacted, officially making marijuana legal in Alaska.
    • Adults 21 and over can now possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana for recreational purposes.
    • The state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABCB) has 9 months in which to draft appropriate regulations for a recreational marijuana industry.
  • November 24, 2015: The ABCB presents its rules and regulations for the industry which include:
    • How many licenses will be issued
    • What the requirements will be for those licenses
    • How many recreational stores can exist
    • Where marijuana stores can be located
    • Rules and requirements for stores once they open, including hours of operation, etc.
    • What marijuana products can be sold in stores
  • February 24, 2016: The window opens in which the state will take applications for licenses to grow, process, test, and/or sell marijuana.
    • The ABCB is required to act on applications within 90 days of receiving them.
  • March 26, 2016: The ABCB introduces final regulations for the recreational marijuana industry.
  • May 24, 2016: The ABCB begins to issue licenses for growers, processors, testing facilities, and stores.
  • October 29, 2016: The first retail marijuana store in Alaska opens in Valdez.
    • But fewer than 10 additional stores had opened before the end of the year.
  • December 15, 2016: The first retail marijuana store opens in Anchorage and its first customer is 81-year-old Anna Ercoli.
  • December 31, 2016: Total retail marijuana sales from the opening of the first store on October 29, 2016 through the end of 2016 were more than $800,000.
  • January, 2017: Shops across the state faced cannabis supply shortages because of too few growers and were forced to either close temporarily or shorten their hours of operation.
    • This lagging supply results in a drop in marijuana revenue in January to just over $100,000.
  • April, 2017: Residents in some cities begin to push back against the marijuana industry.

    • In Valdez–where the first retail store opened in October, 2016–Pastor Carl Hedman sponsors a petition called Proposition 1 that will appear on the ballot in a May 2, 2017 municipal election.
    • If voters say yes to Prop 1, all marijuana license holders in the city will be required to move their businesses outside city limits.
The National Context

So how does Alaska’s decision to legalize marijuana fit into the national context?

  • Alaska was part of a second wave of states (including Oregon and The District of Columbia) that legalized marijuana in 2014, following Colorado and Washington which were the first to do so in 2012.
  • Alaska was the first traditionally conservative state to choose legalization, whereas the other states that have legalized are more Democratic-leaning.
  • With legalization now in place in 8 states and the District of Columbia, the national market for marijuana is projected to reach $7 billion by the end of 2017 and $22 billion by 2022.
  • More and more states are expected to place legalization measures on the ballot in the coming elections.
  • Read all about the current status of marijuana in all the states over at NORML.

So how is Alaska’s legalization of recreational marijuana seen on a federal level?

  • Since marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance at a federal level, many Alaska residents held their breaths after legalization in 2014, waiting to see whether the Department of Justice would step in and play a role in state-level processes.
  • But, Attorney General Eric Holder said in a memo to the governors of both states that the DOJ would not interfere and planned to allow the laws to go into effect.
  • Those working for drug policy reform say the approval of I-502 dramatically boosts the movement’s political clout on a national level and adds to the pressure on the federal government to allow each state to decide on its own regulations.
  • Tom Angell, Chairman of the drug policy reform group called Marijuana Majority, claims that the end of federal marijuana prohibition is now only a matter of time and that policies related to it will be a much bigger issue in Washington DC now that more states are legalizing marijuana.
  • The confirmation of Alabama senator Jeff Sessions as the Attorney General in February, 2017 creates some anxiety among marijuana reform advocates since he can choose to uphold or rescind the U.S. Justice Department’s August, 2013 memo suggesting that U.S. attorneys not prioritize marijuana-related convictions.
  • You can learn more about the current administration’s thoughts on state legalization by reading this article.

The Law in Alaska

Personal Use

These are the rules:

  • Just like alcohol, marijuana can only be purchased by adults. You have to be at least 21 years old to buy products from a recreational marijuana store.
  • Any adult can purchase pot in Alaska including out of state visitors as long as they have proper ID.
  • All recreational products must be consumed in Alaska.
    • It’s still illegal to transport marijuana across state lines, particularly via air travel.
  • The most you can purchase and possess at any one time is:
    • 1 ounce of usable marijuana if you’re outside your residence
    • 1-4 ounces in your residence (based on the Alaska Supreme Court’s ruling that privacy outweighs marijuana laws)
    • Possession of marijuana concentrates is not allowed
  • Growing your own marijuana plants is legal for adults 21 and over.
    • You may grow up to 6 plants
      • If they are inside your residence, you may grow 6-25 plants (based on the Alaska Supreme Court’s ruling that privacy outweighs marijuana laws)
    • No more than 3 of them can be flowering or mature at any one time
    • Any plants being grown must be out of public view and in a secure place
  • You can share or give 1 ounce or less of usable marijuana or up to 6 plants to another adult who is 21 or over, as long as no money changes hands.
  • To learn more about Alaska’s laws related to personal use, check out NORML.
A Word About Medical Marijuana

Medical marijuana was made legal in Alaska in 1998, nearly 2 decades earlier than recreational marijuana. And the system that was subsequently put into place to manage and oversee the medical marijuana program was not altered or impacted at all by the passage of Measure 2 in 2014.

  • Medical dispensaries are not allowed in Alaska so the state is spared the headaches related to having 2 separate dispensary programs (medical and recreational).
  • Regulations governing possession by patients are the same as for recreational marijuana users.
    • 1 ounce of usable marijuana if you’re outside your residence.
    • 1-4 ounces in your residence (based on the Alaska Supreme Court’s ruling that privacy outweighs marijuana laws).
    • Possession of marijuana concentrates is not allowed.
  • Regulations governing growing by patients are also the same as for recreational marijuana. In fact, because medical dispensaries are not allowed in Alaska, patients must:
    • Grow their own
      • Patients may grow up to 6 plants
      • If they are inside the patient’s residence, they may grow 6-25 plants (based on the Alaska Supreme Court’s ruling that privacy outweighs marijuana laws)
      • No more than 3 of them can be flowering or mature at any one time
      • Any plants being grown must out of public view in a secure place
    • Have a caregiver grow on their behalf
    • Buy marijuana from a retail store
  • To ensure legalization of recreational marijuana had no impact on medical marijuana patients, Measure 2 includes a stipulation that says “nothing in this chapter shall be construed to limit any privileges or rights of a medical marijuana patient or medical marijuana caregiver.”
  • If you want to read more about medical marijuana regulations in Alaska, visit NORML.
Buying Marijuana

You’re 21 years old and want to buy some marijuana. Where can you buy it in Alaska?

There are far fewer marijuana retail stores in Alaska than in other states where recreational marijuana is legal; however, the industry is growing. You can find store locations here.

  • Adults 21 and over can only buy marijuana at licensed retail shops.  That means:
    • No delivery services
    • No internet sales
    • No food trucks or restaurants selling marijuana-infused dishes
  • Note that some cities and municipalities have banned recreational marijuana sales altogether.
  • As another reminder, all recreational cannabis bought in Alaska must be consumed in Alaska.
What to Expect at the Store
  • Shops are only open during certain hours so be sure to call ahead to get information.
  • A doorman checks IDs before you buy, just like at a bar.
  • There are no free samples.
  • Opened marijuana products are not allowed inside stores.
  • And neither is consumption. Just like opening a bottle in a liquor store is illegal, lighting up in a marijuana store is as well.
  • Certain kinds of paraphernalia–like pipes, bongs, and storage containers–will be on hand for purchase.
  • Other kinds of paraphernalia–for example, extraction equipment–will have to be purchased elsewhere.
  • Be prepared to pay cash since stores do not take credit cards or checks. But most stores will have an ATM on-site for customer convenience.
Consumption

Where can you smoke marijuana in Alaska?

  • It’s legal to use cannabis products in Alaska if you are:
    • On private property
    • Outside the view of the general public
    • If you own a home, you are free to consume your marijuana there
    • If you rent, this could be problematic if your residence is a non-smoking one or if your landlord has rules against marijuana use on his or her property
    • If you’re a tourist, this is an even bigger problem since many hotel rooms are non-smoking, and there are no real guidelines about marijuana consumption in hotels or rentals
  • You can’t smoke marijuana:
    • In public
    • In view of the general public
    • At the retail shop where you bought it
    • Anywhere where smoking is banned
      • Which includes bars, restaurants, many hotels, and places of business
      • Concerts and sporting events
      • Anywhere it is prohibited to have an open container of alcohol
        • Which includes your vehicle
    • On federal land, which includes
      • National parks
      • Federal courthouses
      • National monuments
      • Military bases
    • On some Indian reservations

In 2015, because there was a great deal of confusion over what “in public” meant, Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott released an emergency regulation defining it. You can read the entire memo here. Essentially, “‘in public’ was defined as a place to which the public or a substantial group of persons has access.” This includes:

  • Highways
  • Transportation facilities (bus stations, etc.)
  • Schools
  • Parks
  • Playgrounds
  • Prisons
  • Businesses
  • Hallways, lobbies, and other communal areas in hotels or apartments

If caught smoking marijuana where it is banned, you will not go to jail. You’ll simply be asked to cease your consumption and you may be fined around $100, but that’s it. (This does not apply to federal land since the feds have their own marijuana-related laws.)

Police Enforcement

Driving High

Measure 2 specifically states that it makes no changes to the impaired driving laws in Alaska which already contain detailed provisions for drugged driving.

So what is driving high in Alaska?

  • Unlike Colorado and Washington, Alaska has no “magic number” or defined level for the THC content in your blood that is officially designated as drugged driving.
  • Instead, the law states simply that it is a crime to drive “while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage, intoxicating liquor, inhalant, or any controlled substance, singly or in combination.”
  • With laws this unclear, it’s best to stay put and never drive after consuming any amount of marijuana.

How an officer can stop you:

  • An officer can stop you for another offense, such as speeding, an illegal turn, etc.
  • Or if they have probable cause that you are driving impaired. This includes:
    • Speeding
    • Swerving
    • Other suspicious driving activity

What happens when they stop you:

  • They will ask some questions, observe your behavior, and probably have you take a preliminary breath test.
  • If you pass the breath test – meaning no alcohol is detected – then they’ll conduct field sobriety tests to determine your level of impairment. The test can be:
    • Walk the Line Test – you’ll be asked to walk in a straight line and the officer will watch for lack of balance, inability to stay on a straight line, or breaks in walking.
    • One Leg Stand Test – you will be asked to raise your foot, be still, count and look down and the officer will watch for swaying, hopping, or putting your foot down.
  • They’ll also look for
    • Dilated pupils
    • The smell of pot
    • Eyelid or body tremors
    • Especially relaxed and uninhibited behavior
    • Short term memory problems
  • If you fail the field sobriety tests, the officer will ask for your consent to conduct a blood or urine test to determine drug content.
  • Unlike the “implied consent” related to alcohol, you do not have to submit to a drug test and there is no penalty for refusing to do so.
  • If you are in a serious accident and there are injuries, however, a test will be mandatory.

Penalties for a first offense include:

  • A fine of up to $1,500
  • No less than 72 hours of jail time
  • Suspension of your license for 90 days
  • A mandatory ignition interlock device
  • For subsequent offenses, the penalties increase

Read Alaska’s laws on drugged driving courtesy of NORML.

Other Legal Information

Penalties for possession of more than 1 ounce for personal use are:

  • 1-4 ounces is a misdemeanor with up to 1 year in jail and a $10,000 fine
  • 4 ounces or more is a felony with up to 5 years in jail and a $50,000 fine
  • Any amount within 500 feet of school grounds or a recreation center is also a felony with up to 5 years in jail and a $50,000 fine

Penalties for possession with intent to distribute are:

  • Less than 1 ounce is a misdemeanor with a maximum 1 year in jail and a $10,000 fine if money changes hands
  • 1 ounce or more is a felony with up to 5 years in jail and a $50,000 fine if money changes hands
  • But remember, you can give up to 1 ounce to anyone 21 and older as long as an exchange for money is not involved

Penalties for cultivation of more plants than the law allows are:

  • An adult may grow up to 6 plants outside the public view in a secure area.
  • If they are inside your residence, you may grow 6 – 25 plants (based on the Alaska Supreme Court’s ruling that privacy outweighs marijuana laws)
  • No more than 3 of them can be flowering or mature at any one time
  • But 25 plants or more is a felony with up to 5 years in jail and a $1,000 fine.

City and municipal laws:

  • Cities and counties can vote to completely ban recreational marijuana facilities
  • They can restrict where marijuana businesses can be located
  • Local municipalities are also allowed to “reasonably regulate” the growing, possession and use of marijuana plants.

Read all about the laws and penalties in Alaska over at NORML.

Going Into Business

Licenses

Marijuana business licenses in Alaska include four types:

  • Marijuana cultivation facilities: these are the growers
  • Marijuana product manufacturing facilities: these are processors that turn marijuana plants into usable marijuana, extracts, and other cannabis products
  • Marijuana testing facilities: these facilities conduct testing to ensure marijuana products meet quality control requirements
  • Marijuana retail stores: these are the shops that sell marijuana and cannabis products to adults 21 and over

How to acquire a license

You can read all the details about the online application process here. And you can review the precise instructions for submitting your application here.  But be warned, the process is cumbersome and your application must be accompanied by a vast number of additional documents.

According to the ABCB, the following must be submitted before an application will be considered complete:

  • Form MJ-00: Application Certifications
  • Form MJ-01: Marijuana Establishment Operating Plan
  • Form MJ-02: Premises Diagram
  • Form MJ-07: Public Notice Posting Affidavit
  • Form MJ-08: Local Government Notice Affidavit
  • Publisher’s Affidavit
  • Form MJ-09: Statement of Financial Interest
  • Proof of Possession for Proposed Premises
  • Entity Documents
  • Fingerprint Cards
  • Fingerprint Fees ($47.00 per person)
  • New Application Fee ($1,000 for each license type)

You can read an extensive list of FAQs on the Alaska state website here.

Who can apply

In order to apply for a license:

  • You must be a legal resident of the State of Alaska
  • You cannot have a prior conviction of certain felonies
  • The other restrictions about who can apply are quite numerous and you can find them here
Taxes

A marijuana tax is imposed on processors when marijuana is transferred from a marijuana cultivation facility to a retail marijuana store or marijuana product manufacturing facility.

  • The tax is $50 per ounce of marijuana.
  • Certain parts of the plant may be exempt from taxes.
  • A lower tax rate may be applied for certain parts of the plant.
  • Consumers buying marijuana in stores will pay applicable state and local sales tax

Where do the taxes go?

  • Unlike every other state where recreational marijuana has been legalized, Alaska has no specific fund into which marijuana-related taxes are placed and specifies no particular uses for the tax dollars.

Growing Pot

Measure 2 allows adults 21 and over in Alaska to grow marijuana for their personal use.

  • Adults can possess and grow up to 6 plants.
  • No more than 3 can be mature or flowering at any one time.
  • If they are inside your residence, you may grow 6 – 25 plants (based on the Alaska Supreme Court’s ruling that privacy outweighs marijuana laws).
  • This number of plants applies to any household, no matter how many adults live there.
  • You have to grow in a private, secure area out of the public view.
  • If you end up with more marijuana than you can use, you can give away up to 6 plants to someone 21 or older but no money can change hands.
    • No more than 3 can be mature or flowering
  • Property owners can ban the cultivation of marijuana on their properties – meaning your landlord can decide that plants cannot be grown on their property, i.e., in your apartment.
  • Any violation of the cultivation rules is subject to a fine of up to $750.

Resource Guide