With the rollout of its recreational marijuana law on Tuesday, Alaska is scheduled to join the short list of states whose residents can legally smoke pot for non-medical purposes. But that won’t mean marijuana businesses or even a legal weed market will be operating. Although the law allows Alaskans to smoke, grow and possess limited amounts of marijuana beginning Feb. 24, buying and selling pot in the state will remain prohibited until lawmakers work out how to tax and regulate the industry, which probably won’t happen until next year.
In November, Alaska voters approved Ballot Measure 2 legalizing marijuana for recreational use. The new law allows adults 21 years of age or older to smoke marijuana within the privacy of their own homes, transport up to 1 ounce of pot, possess up to six plants and gift up to 1 ounce of weed to other of-age adults. Oregon and Washington, D.C., also approved recreational marijuana last year. D.C.’s law will likely go into effect by the end of the week, however Oregon won’t see its laws change until later this year.
Alaska’s marijuana law also established the framework for regulating the sale of marijuana products, but the legislature is still in the process of establishing guidelines for a legal weed market, including which department would be in charge of monitoring the industry. That role is likely to fall with the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, or the legislature could create a separate marijuana control board. Those decisions are expected to be made by November, meaning the board could begin taking applications for marijuana businesses as soon as February 2016, according to the Alaska Dispatch News.
Alaska was among the first U.S. states to legalize marijuana for medical purposes in 1998. The law passed with 58 percent voter approval and removed criminal penalties for patients suffering from certain medical conditions, including cancer, epilepsy and HIV/AIDS.
Along with the law’s debut on Tuesday will come a safety campaign aimed at educating the public about responsible marijuana consumption. The campaign will include bus ads with slogans like “With great marijuana laws comes great responsibility.”
The measure’s architects also warned consumers to smoke responsibly. “As with alcohol there’s an appropriate time, place, and manner to consume marijuana, and the worst thing that could happen right now is for a handful of overzealous folks to spoil things by making a public spectacle out of marijuana consumption,” industry proponents Tim Hinterberger and Bruce Schulte said in a joint statement in the Juneau Empire. “So, please be respectful of your fellow Alaskans, don’t drive under the influence and don’t do anything to give your neighbors reason to feel uneasy about this new law.”