Alaska Just Became the Fourth U.S. State to Legalize Marijuana

Alaska Just Became the Fourth U.S. State to Legalize Marijuana
Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Lost in all the red this Election Day was a successful night for marijuana legalization activists, especially those in the Last Frontier.

Voters in Alaska legalized recreational pot Tuesday, joining Colorado, Washington and Oregon, which also just approved its measure. Don't toke up in celebration just yet, though, Alaskans. The new law doesn't go into effect until next year.

It was a close vote, with legalization pulling ahead 52% to 48% after all precincts reported. "A regulated marijuana market will generate millions of dollars in tax revenue and create good jobs for Alaskans," pro-legalization spokesman Taylor Bickford said in a victory statement. "Law enforcement will be able to spend their time addressing serious crimes instead of enforcing failed marijuana prohibition laws."

How it works: Alaska legalized medical marijuana in 1998, though previous measures to approve recreational use have failed. All that changed Tuesday, though, as the state moves to creating a marijuana control board that will decide how to approve and regulate businesses.

It's likely to lead to a big cash infusion for the Alaskan government. A recent report predicted nearly $7 million in state revenue the first year of legalization. That number will jump up to nearly $24 million by 2020, according to the report.

How much money comes in likely depends on how the state decides to set up its marijuana marketplace. Legal pot didn't sell quite as well as predicted in Colorado and Washington, thanks to a combination of limited supply and higher taxes (it's cheaper to get medical marijuana or go old fashioned and buy it illegally), though the former still made $45 million in the first 8 months of legalization, and the outlook for the latter appears good.

Other victories: Oregon's legalization, which passed with 54% of the vote, will also follow Colorado and Washington's example and set up pot shops.

The nation's capital, meanwhile, also voted in favor of legalization, though it won't look like the four states above. D.C.'s law will simply make it legal for residents 21 and older to possess up to 2 ounces of pot and grow up to six plants; there won't be any shops unless more legislation is passed. It was the biggest (and most expected) legalization win, with 65% of the vote.

The only one left behind was Florida, where voters turned down a medical marijuana initiative. It still got a majority — 58% of the vote! — but required 60% to successfully amend the state's constitution.

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Matt Connolly

Matt has written for Mother Jones, the Washington Examiner and Chicago Public Radio among many others. He's a resident of Washington, D.C., but much like Bruce Springsteen and pork roll he is a product of New Jersey.

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