Source: Anchorage Daily News (AK)
Author: Tataboline Brant, Anchorage Daily News
Published: November 3, 2004
Copyright: 2004 The Anchorage Daily News
Contact: [email protected]
Funding: Backers of initiative spent huge sums to pass proposal.
A massive spending campaign by the fans of legalized marijuana in Alaska failed to convince voters.
With more than 80 percent of precincts reporting Tuesday night, voters rejected by a crushing margin the notion that pot should be legal for adults 21 and older to possess, grow, buy or give away. Backers of Ballot Measure 2 spent huge sums making their case in print and broadcast media, vastly outspending foes.
The proposal, which would have allowed for state regulation and taxation of pot, did not appear to be faring better than a similar but more ambitious initiative in 2000. People on both sides of the issue this year thought, or worried, Measure 2 had a fighting chance because it asked less of voters than the one in 2000.
Alaska voters leaving the polls Tuesday cited everything from the state's substance abuse problems to fears about stoned drivers or sending a mixed message to kids as reasons they voted against the measure.
David Finkelstein, treasurer of one of the main groups pushing for legalization, conceded defeat. He said the campaign had a lot of momentum until about mid-October, when federal officials, including a deputy White House drug czar, visited the state with an antidrug message.
"Then there was that horrific, gruesome murder story that was super depressing," he said, referring to the recent arrest in Anchorage of a 16-year-old who was charged with first-degree murder for killing his stepmother and dumping her in a freezer while high on marijuana. "It sort of derailed the message there for a while," Finkelstein said.
Matthew Fagnani, chairman of the sole opposition group to Measure 2 and president of the local drug-testing firm WorkSafe Inc., said he was "very happy" about the results. "Today is a good day for the sake of the future of Alaska's children," he said.
U.S. Attorney Tim Burgess said he was relieved and heartened that Alaskans took the issue seriously. "Substance abuse and drug addiction are a tremendous problem in Alaska," he said. "It is something that the law enforcement community realizes because they have to deal with it every day."
Alaska voters had gone both ways in the past. They legalized marijuana for medical purposes in 1998. Two years later, 59 percent of voters turned down a proposition similar to Measure 2, though that initiative, which included retroactive amnesty and possible reparations for people convicted of pot crimes, didn't fail as miserably as some expected given its reach. About 41 percent of voters approved it.
One of the four groups pressing for legalization this time around was bankrolled to the tune of $850,000 by the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, which also funded legalization efforts in Nevada, Oregon and Montana this year. Another of the groups, which did most of the legwork to get legalization on the ballot, had hundreds of Alaska supporters, according to its campaign finance reports.
The pro side argued that marijuana was innocuous enough that it shouldn't be the government's business if people want to smoke it. It said the unsuccessful prohibition of pot wastes millions of dollars and that if the state would regulate it, they could save money, get rid of the black market and make pot harder for kids to get but easier for adults, including medical marijuana patients, to obtain.
Former Kotzebue police chief Paul Nolton, 46, disagreed. "We didn't need another legal drug out here," he said after voting in the northwestern hub community Tuesday morning, where temperatures hovered around zero. "Alcohol has caused enough problems."
Maija Johnson, 27, also of Kotzebue, agreed. "If I could have voted to make alcohol illegal, I would have," she said. "There's so much substance abuse."
To the southeast, in Fairbanks, Catherine Witt, a public educator, said she voted no because of the mixed message legalization would send to kids, while Shelly Huhtamen, 30, said she worried pot would lead users to harder drugs. Huhtamen added: "I have a 4-month-old, and I don't want to be driving wondering if other drivers are stoned."
Ann Rippy, 48, also of Fairbanks, said she couldn't make up her mind. "I'm so divided on that one I didn't even vote."
Rachel Nelson, 32, of Sitka voted for legalization. "I know a lot of people with cancer and HIV, and it's helped them," she said. "Pot is going to be here whether we like it or not, so it might as well be legal."
In Anchorage, Beverly Bradley-Acuna, 61, said she voted against legalization. "I think it would encourage too many people from the Lower 48 to come up here, and that would increase crime," she said.
Wev Shea, a former U.S. attorney for Alaska, called the returns "wonderful." "It's going down strong," he said, adding that he thought talk radio shows in the state and the Alaska State Medical Association, which came out against legalization, helped to defeat the measure.
"I think it just became clear to people that this was an Outside movement to basically experiment with Alaska," Shea said.
Finkelstein said it was too soon to say if legalization proponents would put the issue before Alaska voters again. He said the public discussion about pot has been going on in Alaska since the 1970s and he didn't think it would end any time soon. Clearly the election results show a significant minority of residents are willing to try a different approach to marijuana regulation, he said.
"Alaskans have shown they are open to change but they have to be confident they know what they are going to get," he said. "The final step will have to be even more moderate."
Casey Grove in Fairbanks, John Creed and Susan B. Andrews in Kotzebue, Lisa Busch in Sitka and Daily News reporter Ann Potempa contributed to this story.
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