Marijuana is legal in Alaska for both medical and recreational purposes. The state government passed the Marijuana Legalization Ballot Measure 2 law making the recreational use of the plant legal in 2015 for individuals who are 21 years and older. Afterward, they created the Marijuana Control Board to regulate the new law. However, there are a few limiting factors for marijuana users to consider. For instance, no Alaskan resident is allowed to have more than 1 ounce of marijuana on them per time. The government also prohibits residents from smoking marijuana in public or driving when they are high.
Alaska became the third state to legalize recreational marijuana in February 2015, when the Alaska Legislature passed Ballot Measure 2. Before then, voters endorsed the Alaska Medical Marijuana Initiative in 1998, making medical cannabis consumption and possession legal in the state. The Initiative, also known as Ballot Measure 8 or AS 17.37, was included in the Alaskan Constitution as Alaska Statute Title 17, Chapter 37. Two decades before the Initiative, on May 16, 1975, Alaska became the second state in the United States to decriminalize marijuana. President Richard Nixon's Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1971 laid the foundation for the state's action. Despite decriminalizing marijuana, the Alaska State Legislature imposed a $100 punishment for possession of the plant. This means that possession of marijuana in Alaska was not an outright crime. Individuals only got fined for having it in their possession, but no binding legal action followed. As of December 2022, Alaska residents can buy up to one ounce of marijuana or seven grams of concentrate from licensed marijuana dispensaries in the state. Residents can also legally grow up to six plants in their home.
Qualified individuals can apply for a medical marijuana card by contacting the medical marijuana registry under the Alaska Health Analytics and Vital Records Section (HAVRS). To qualify for a medical marijuana card in Alaska, a patient must have a doctor's report. This report must show that they have been diagnosed with and receiving treatment for glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, cancer, or HIV/AIDS. They can also qualify if they have any chronic ailments that result in chronic or severe pain, seizures, muscle tremors, severe nausea, and cachexia. To get a medical marijuana card, applicants need to schedule a doctor's appointment where they will present their medical records, get a recommendation, then register for the card. Afterward, they should send the recommendation in an application to the medical marijuana registry of the HAVRS at:
Alaska Bureau of Vital Statistics Marijuana Registry P.O. Box 110699 Juneau, AK 99811-0699
Individuals who want to buy recreational cannabis will need to present government-issued photo IDs asserting that they have attained the legal purchasing age. In what seems like a similar vein, no law in Alaska prohibits felons from using marijuana for medical and recreational purposes. It is, however, recommended that individuals confirm this information with the county program as each county may have different additional regulations for marijuana use.
Alaska's Gross State Profit (GSP) was $56 billion as of 2019. Because of the state's heavy dependence on oil and gas, the drop in oil prices in recent years has greatly affected the state's economic performance. Alaska's economy has declined during the last five years, second only to Wyoming's decline. With a 7.3 % unemployment rate in March of 2018, it is probably the worst in the U.S. The marijuana industry generated $8.5 million in wages in Alaska in 2017. The following are ways in which the legalization of marijuana has impacted different sectors of Alaska's economy:
According to marijuana tax revenue estimates, Alaska was projected to earn $28.2 million in 2020. Instead, they generated $24.5 million. In 2021, the state generated over $28 million in tax revenue from the sale of marijuana. Alaska taxes cannabis dispensaries and growers according to the quantity and type of cannabis sold. The state imposes $50 per ounce for mature plants and $25 per ounce for immature plants as tax. Each clone is taxed $1 per type.The Alaska Department of Revenue - Tax Division reported the following as marijuana tax revenue generated between 2017 to 2022):
2017 - $1,749,497
2018 - $11,084,807
2019 - $19,204,109
2020 - $24,540,009
2021 - $28,894,487
The table below represents a breakdown of the tax revenue generated from marijuana in Alaska by categories of marijuana between 2018 and 2021:
|Calendar Year||Bud and Flower||Immature/Seedy/Failed||Trim - Remainder of Plan||Amount of Clones||Total Tax|
|2022 (July - September)||$3,795,789||$1,891,140||$1,812,491||$1,253||$7,500,672|
Impact on Alaskan Government Expenses
The income generated from the marijuana tax is added to the annual budget of the state. This revenue is distributed by percentage to different government departments. Tax revenue generated from marijuana sales in Alaska goes into three areas, according to state law. These are:
Through the Department of Health and Human Services, 25% of the proceeds go to the Marijuana Education and Treatment Fund, which strives to reduce teenage marijuana use and the negative health repercussions that come with it.
The remaining 25% goes into the state budget.
Income and Jobs
Alaska is one of the smallest employers of legal marijuana labor in the U.S. According to Marijuana Business Daily, Alaska has about 70,000 to 90,000 in-state customers. The cultivation, distribution, and sale of marijuana employ roughly 10,000 Alaskans directly or indirectly. Alaskan cannabis is homegrown by residents who have licenses and permits.
The Alaska Economic Trends for December 2022 shows that the employment rate in the marijuana industry in Alaska has grown steadily over the years. The employment rate doubled in 2018 from 342 in the previous year to over 700. By 2021 there were over 1,500 direct marijuana-related jobs. The increase in jobs created also led to an increase in wages paid. Between 2017 to 2018, the annual remuneration paid by the marijuana industry rose from $9.8 million to over $22 million. By 2021, the annual wage paid in Alaska’s marijuana industry stood at $48.3 million.
Alaska Economic Job Projection Trends further report that the agriculture sector in Alaska will see rapid growth by 2030, majorly through the cultivation of marijuana. Marijuana cultivation comes under greenhouses, and it estimates that over 85% of new jobs will come from greenhouses by 2030.
The legalization of marijuana in Alaska has led to an increase in the influx of visitors in the state. This influx impacts positively on Alaska's tourism industry. Tourism is the highest private industry earner in the Alaskan economy.
The number of marijuana drug and possession-related crimes in Alaska has fallen significantly since the legalization of recreational marijuana. This is because can now have up to 4 ounces of marijuana legally, and marijuana producers are not charged for any crimes provided they are licensed.
In Alaska, the bill that legalized recreational cannabis was passed in 2014. However, the law didn't go into full effect until February 2015, when Measure 2 was effected. The law permits cannabis to be sold at state-licensed outlets. With the adoption of Measure 2, Alaska became the third state to legalize marijuana for recreational use and sale. Unlike some states that had a reduction of marijuana-related crimes after the legalization of the plant, crime rates in Alaska went up.
The Federal Bureau Investigation (FBI) Crime Data Explorer reports a drastic decrease in the overall marijuana sales and possession arrests made in Alaska. In 2018, law enforcement officers reported 315 arrests for the possession and illegal sale of marijuana. In 2019, the arrest figures stood at 217. In 2020 and 2021, the arrest data for marijuana possession and criminal sales were 138 and 59.
Between 2018 and 2021, marijuana possession and illegal sales arrest decreased significantly by 81%. In addition, the FBI’s crime data explorer reports that marijuana arrests accounted for 30% of all drug-related arrests in 2018. However, by 2021, marijuana-related arrests accounted for only 13% of the total arrests made for drug-related arrests. The FBI crime data reports clearly show a remarkable decrease in marijuana-related crimes post-legalization of cannabis in Alaska.
Marijuana legality in Alaska has been going back and forth between decriminalization and legalization since the first decriminalization law was passed in 1975. Up until 1975, the use of marijuana for either medical or recreational purposes was illegal. After the Ravin v. State case, the decriminalization statute was passed. Ravin v. State was a 1975 Alaska Supreme Court case that ruled that an adult's right to privacy protects their capacity to consume and possess a bag of marijuana in their home for personal use under the Alaska Constitution. As a result, the Alaska Supreme Court became the first, and so far, the only state or federal court in the United States to declare a constitutional right to privacy that covers some amount of marijuana use and possession.
The law was amended to give Alaskan citizens over the age of 21 the right to consume and possess a limited amount of cannabis for personal use in 1975, according to the Alaska Supreme Court. However, the $100 fine attached to the law was abolished in 1982. The Alaska Legislature decriminalized the possession of up to 4 ounces which is 113.4 grams of marijuana at home in 1986, and 1 ounce, 28.35 grams in public. In the late 1980s, the use of marijuana was once again criminalized in the state. This reversal was because there were multiple marijuana trafficking arrests made in the state. In 1990, voters approved the Alaska Marijuana Criminalization Initiative, otherwise known as Ballot Measure 2. Under this law, possession of marijuana, even in small amounts, was classified as a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail or a fine of $1,000.
Alaska Medical Marijuana Initiative, also known as Measure 8, was approved by state voters in 1998. It legalized medical marijuana for certain individuals. Although the Alaska Medical Marijuana Initiative legalized cannabis possession and use to some extent, there was no legal way for patients and caregivers to purchase it. The Use of Hemp Initiative, known as Measure 5, which once again sought to legalize recreational cannabis, was defeated with a vote of 40.9% in 2000. In 2003, the Noy v. State case tried by the Alaska Court of Appeals convicted David Noy for possession of fewer than 8 ounces of marijuana by a jury. This became a problem during the appeal because of the 1975 law that legalized the possession of fewer than four ounces of marijuana. On appeal, the possession of more than 4 ounces was called into question. As a result, the Court of Appeals reversed Noy's conviction and invalidated the section of the law that criminalized possession of fewer than 4 ounces of marijuana. Measure 2 to legalize recreational cannabis failed with 44.3% of the vote in 2004.
In 2006, there was a strong wave of anti-cannabis sentiment in Alaska, and the State Legislature once again passed a bill criminalizing cannabis possession. Republican Governor Frank Murkowski, who publicly opposed cannabis use, was a major proponent of the law. This went on for a long time until the Alaska Marijuana Legalization Initiative, or Measure 2, got approved by the legislature in 2014 with 53% of the vote. This law permits the cultivation, sale, and use of recreational cannabis. In February 2015, the law went into full effect.
In 2016 Senate Bill 91, sponsored by seven senators - Coghill, McGuire, Costello, Ellis, Bishop, Egan, and Micciche -passed the legislature and was signed into law by Governor Mike Dunleavy. The bill, majorly a criminal reform bill, lays the framework for how the state intends to utilize the revenue generated from the excise tax by creating the Recidivism Reduction Fund. The fund aims to provide programs to prevent repeat marijuana offenses. Also, in 2016, the Department of Revenue set the marijuana tax rate at $50 for any part of the marijuana flower or bud. It also specifies $15 for the remaining part of the plant.
In 2018, nine senators, including Giessel, Micciche, Gardner, Ellis, Stoltze, Stevens, Egan, Bishop, and Wielechowski, initiated Senate Bill 104. The bill establishes the marijuana education and treatment fund and charges the Department of Health with overseeing the marijuana use and education treatment program.
On March 12, 2019, Republican Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer signed off on the Legislature's endorsed regulations for onsite consumption, and the laws took effect on April 11, 2019. The onsite consumption measure grants each local government jurisdiction over its counties, as well as the authority to establish its onsite regulations. A third tax rate came into effect in 2019 - a $25 per ounce for immature or abnormal marijuana buds or flowers containing seeds.
September 2022, Governor Mike Dunleavy issued an administrative order constituting a task force on recreational marijuana to review the state’s existing marijuana tax structure and fees and provide guidance for the improvement of adult-use cannabis in Alaska. The task force intends to submit its report by January 2023.