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9 Jan, 2014 16:49

Alaska takes major step toward marijuana legalization

Alaska takes major step toward marijuana legalization

Legal marijuana is inching closer and closer to becoming a reality in Alaska, where it’s very likely voters will render a decision on the issue in August.

On Wednesday, Alaska’s pot supporters handed over a petition to legalize the recreational use of marijuana with over 45,000 signatures, according to the Huffington Post. If government officials are able to confirm that at least 30,169 of the signatures are valid, the ballot initiative will be eligible for a vote in August.

If voters decide to legalize the drug, Alaska will become the third state in the country – following Colorado and Washington – to permit recreational pot smoking for those over 21 years of age.

"It's not that the initiative would bring marijuana to Alaska," said Bill Parker, a former state legislator and one of the initiative's core sponsors, to the Anchorage Daily News. "Marijuana is already in Alaska. It would legalize, regulate and tax it. It would treat it like alcohol."

Although any vote would still be months away, a poll released in April 2013 found that 54 percent of Alaskans supported legalizing marijuana. The state has already sanctioned the use of medical marijuana and decriminalized the possession of small amounts, but the full text of the petition seeks to legalize possession of up to an ounce of pot while also permitting individuals to grow up to six plants of their own.

As in Colorado and Washington, the state would tax all pot sold in the retail market – the petition suggests $50 for each ounce – while also allowing local governments to tack on additional taxes. In Denver, for example, the city has decided to apply an additional 3.5 percent city tax on top of the statewide taxes.

"The proposed initiative will take marijuana sales out of the underground market and put them in legitimate, taxpaying businesses,” Tim Hinterberger, another sponsor and a developmental biology professor at the University of Alaska, told the Huffington Post. “Replacing marijuana prohibition with a system of taxation and sensible regulation will bolster Alaska’s economy by creating jobs and generating revenue for the state."

Outside of Alaska, activists continue to push other states to consider legalization. As RT reported in November, the latest efforts to legalize the plant by lawmakers in Maine failed to generate enough support for consideration, meaning they won’t bring the issue up again until 2015.

In California, meanwhile, an October poll showed that 65 percent of likely 2016 voters support legalizing the drug, though some advocates want to see a ballot initiative voted on later this year.

On January 1, Colorado officially became the first state in the US to open marijuana shops and permit the legal sale of the drug. In the first week of legalization, the state’s 37 pot shops announced they’ve already generated $5 million in sales.