While Alaska may have been the 49th state to join the Union, it was one of the first states to legalize medical marijuana through a ballot measure back in 1998 alongside Oregon and Washington.
How the Alaska Medical Marijuana Act Came to Be
In order to get a medical marijuana measure on the ballot, a doctor-backed group called Alaskans for Medical Rights was going to need to gather the signatures of 24,251 registered Alaskan voters in support of the initiative.
When Alaskans for Medical Rights turned in their petitions in to the Elections Division in January 1998, the organization was 1,068 short of that threshold.
Following a 30-day extension to their petitioning efforts, Alaskans for Medical Rights gathered 25,090 signatures. While they were a day late for 4/20, the Alaska State Division of Elections announced on April 21st that a measure to permit the medical use of marijuana qualified for the November ballot in Alaska.
When Did Alaska Legalize Medical Marijuana?
The Alaska Medical Marijuana Act, a.k.a. Measure 8, was on the November 3, 1998 ballot in Alaska, where it was approved by 58.67% of voters. With 131,586 ‘yes’ votes, patients in Alaska would be allowed to “use marijuana for certain medical purposes.”
Thanks to the same organization that gathered the signatures required to qualify Measure 8 for the November 1998 ballot, the Statement in Support of the measure was far more convincing than the Statement in Opposition.
Support for Alaska’s Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative
In the official voter guide for Alaska’s November 1998 ballot, Measure 8 was supported by an overwhelming amount of science and logic thanks to M. Walter Johnson, MD, Arndt von Hippel, MD, and Frederick J. Hillman, MD from Alaskans for Medical Rights.
Using six main points and a handful of sub-points, the three MDs did a great job of laying down the facts for Alaskans. In an effort to summarize the full Statement in Support of Measure 8:
- Medical marijuana helps terminally ill patients to get relief from severe pain, nausea, and muscle spasticity.
- Physicians would be the ones trusted with the power to authorize “Alaskans and future Alaskans with debilitating diseases” to legally use medical marijuana.
- For chemotherapy patients, medical marijuana “can often ease a patient’s nausea,” thus allowing them to more comfortably continue the treatment without vomiting.
- If doctors can prescribe morphine and cocaine, why can’t they recommend medical marijuana?
- Patients and doctors should not be subject to prosecution for using/recommending medical marijuana.
- There would be protective measures taken to ensure that the new law would not be abused.
- Recreational use of marijuana would still be illegal.
- Only licensed physicians could authorize medical marijuana use.
- Possession would be limited to small amounts.
- No marijuana use would be allowed in public places.
- Alaska would establish a medical marijuana registration and identification system.
- Only certain diseases and ailments would qualify a patient for medical marijuana.
Opposition for Alaska’s Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative
While the Statement in Support of Alaska’s Measure 8 was based on benevolence and science, the Statement in Opposition was based on bias and personal opinions.
Using approximately eleven aggressively worded points, Anchorage resident Wevley William Shea tried to convince Alaskans to “vote against this Act.” In an effort to summarize the full Statement in Opposition of Measure 8:
- Marijuana is a “debilitating illegal drug.”
- Illegal drugs destroy “the very foundation of our Nation and [Alaska] – the family unit.”
- The Act “has no provisions to protect against impurities from “street grass.””
- Dronabinol, a.k.a. Marinol, was already FDA-approved.
- Allowing “drug-user patients” to grow their own medical marijuana is “pure folly.”
- The Act uses “the sick, infirm and dying to pry open the door to drug legalization.”
- Legalizing medical marijuana sends the “wrong message to the youth of Alaska.”
- The classic – “Marijuana is the gateway drug to cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.”
- Using marijuana “leads to lack of individual self respect.”
- Using marijuana can “destroy an individual’s mind, as well as the “soul.””
- Marijuana users “are not able to distinguish between right and wrong.”
Despite this resident’s poetic effort to sway the popular opinion, Alaskans passed Measure 8 proving they were too smart to be convinced that Measure 8 was merely “an attempt to protect those who grow, transport, distribute, sell, possess or use marijuana.”
Applying for a Medical Marijuana Card in Alaska
Beyond just having one of the ailments on the list below, there are other important requirements to be aware of before applying for a Medical Marijuana Registry card in Alaska.
First off, you must be an Alaskan resident to qualify for the program. A “legible
photocopy of the Alaska Driver’s License or Alaska Identification Card of the applicant and all caregivers must be submitted with the application,” so you’re not going to make it past this step unless you’re a local.
It should also be noted that there is no reciprocity program in Alaska, so a medical marijuana card from another state won’t work while you visit.
Next, there are five very specific steps of the application that must be completed before a determination may be made by Alaska’s Bureau of Vital Statistics. Failure to do these steps properly can result in flat-out denial of your marijuana registry card. If you are denied, you aren’t allowed to re-apply for a period of at least 6 months.
Qualifying Conditions for a Medical Marijuana Card in Alaska
Despite the fact that medical marijuana has been legal in Alaska for nearly two decades, many potential patients, caregivers, and physicians are still curious as to which conditions and ailments qualify someone for Alaska’s medical marijuana program.
Below are the medical conditions that would qualify a patient for enrolling in Alaska’s medical marijuana program.
- Chronic Pain
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
- Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)
- Multiple Sclerosis
Where Can I Buy Medical Marijuana in Alaska?
There are no state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries in Alaska. With that said, there are numerous state-licensed recreational marijuana dispensaries in Alaska that patients can procure their medicine from.
Additionally, at-home cannabis cultivation is legal in Alaska, capped at 6 plants maximum (only 3 can be mature plants at any given time).
How Much Marijuana Can I Legally Possess in Alaska?
For both recreational and medical marijuana in Alaska, possession is capped at 1 ounce. Possession of between 1 and 4 ounces of marijuana is misdemeanor and will lead to big fines and potential jail time. With 4 or more ounces of weed, you’re looking at a hefty felony charge.
Whether you’re a patient, caregiver, physician or consumer, this definitive guide should help you navigate the complicated cannabis laws in Alaska.
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