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U.S. deputy drug czar Scott Burns lobbied against Prop. 2.
Photo by Bob Hallinen ~ Anchorage Daily News


Anti-Pot Team Attacks Push To Legalize It


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Source: Anchorage Daily News (AK)
Author: Tataboline Brant, Anchorage Daily News
Published: October 14, 2004
Copyright: 2004 The Anchorage Daily News 
Contact: [email protected] 

Message: U.S. deputy drug czar, top cops, physicians join forces against Ballot Measure 2.

The governor, his wife, a key federal anti-drug official, medical professionals and top Alaska cops led an assault Wednesday on a ballot initiative that would legalize pot, saying it could damage everything from schoolchildren to the state's relationship with the military.

The anti-drug team, members of which pitched their message at a press conference and a luncheon, represented the strongest, most organized airing so far of the opposition to Ballot Measure 2, which will go before voters in the Nov. 2 election. 

The measure would make it legal under state law for people 21 and older to grow, use, sell or give away marijuana. It would also allow for state regulation and taxation of marijuana. 

White House deputy drug czar Scott Burns, at a press conference at a juvenile drug treatment center in East Anchorage, said that according to one state study, almost 50 percent of high school students in Alaska reported using marijuana at least once. "That is phenomenal."

And dangerous, he said, because marijuana is far more potent than it was in the 1960s and '70s. "This is now a rite of middle school drug."

Burns was joined by Alaska State Troopers Director Col. Julia Grimes; Deputy Anchorage Police Chief Audie Holloway; Alaska's first lady, Nancy Murkowski; and others.

Dr. Paul Worrell, president of the Alaska State Medical Association, a private organization with about 600 physician members, said his group opposes Ballot Measure 2 because it believes marijuana is an introduction to other drugs and needs to be discouraged as a matter of public health.

Worrell said he has taken care of hundreds of patients with substance abuse problems and that almost all said they started with marijuana. He said he has seen patients who have emphysema, asthma, lung cancer and other ailments where it is clear to him from talking to them that the culprit is marijuana. 

At least four groups support the measure to legalize marijuana.

One, Alaska Hemp, raised around $108,000, about half of that in individual donations from hundreds of Alaskans, and spent most of its money getting the measure on the ballot through the initiative process, according to organizers. Another of the groups has been bankrolled with half a million dollars by an Outside organization, the Marijuana Policy Project, and has used much of its money on television and radio advertisements.

The pro-initiative forces argue marijuana use is a personal privacy matter, is not as harmful as alcohol and taxing it could be a source of revenue for Alaska. They also say too many kids already can get their hands on pot, which is an argument for regulation.

Grimes and Holloway both said marijuana is tied to numerous accidents, injuries and deaths. Holloway said the Anchorage Police Department has had homicides related to marijuana grows and profits. Legalization, he said, is not just about personal use. "It's going to have an effect on people who don't use it."

Public officials are generally allowed under state law to speak about ballot initiatives as long as such communication promotes the public interest and is in the usual and customary practice of their duties, according the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

Nancy Murkowski said she feared legalization would lead to more absenteeism at workplaces. She also worried about the effects it would have on villages that have worked to ban alcohol.

"This is truly going to be something that is a cancer on our state," she said. 

"This is not about privacy," she said. "This is about smoking pot." 

Later, at a downtown luncheon, Gov. Frank Murkowski said an effort is under way to "buy Alaska" on the legalization issue. He said he appreciated that Alaskans like their privacy, but there is a common good at stake: "That is our youth."

Tim Hinterberger, an associate professor for the University of Alaska Anchorage's biomedical program and a sponsor of Ballot Measure 2, said it wasn't until after the initiative got on the ballot that the Marijuana Policy Project got interested and started making large financial contributions. "There's no doubt it was a homegrown campaign," he said. 

The governor also said the military plays a great role in Alaska and legalized pot could harm that relationship.

"These are serious considerations for the state of Alaska," he said.

Expanding on that theme, a Murkowski spokesman, Mike Chambers, later said the governor was drawing on his experience serving as a U.S. senator during base closure proceedings. 

Chambers said legalization could be an "aggravating factor" in such proceedings. "This could be something that influences someone's decision," he said. "It's going to have a negative effect on our relationship with the military."

Chambers said Alaska is also a major training center for the military. "The fear is that something like this would have a chilling effect on the training dollars and where they spend them."

Hinterberger said raising the prospect that approval of the initiative would impact the military presence in Alaska is a scare tactic.

Proponents of Ballot Measure 2 also said Burns' contention that too many kids are smoking pot was making their case for them. Ken Jacobus said if so many kids are using marijuana, the government's drug war obviously isn't working and Alaska needs to try something different, like regulation.

"One definition of insanity is doing something over and over and over again and expecting that the result will be any different," he said. 

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