Big Week for New Marijuana Laws in Alaska and D.C. | Marijuana

Big Week for New Marijuana Laws in Alaska and D.C.


Marijuana possession and cultivation officially become legal in two more places this week.

In Alaska, portions of the legalization measure that voters approved by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin back in November go into effect on Tuesday. While it will still take several months for the state government to craft regulations and dole out licenses to legal marijuana retailers, Alaska residents will now be allowed to grow their own cannabis and possess it legally.

And in Washington, D.C., where voters approved legalization in November by a huge 70 percent to 30 percent margin, the clock on a mandated Congressional review period of the city’s law is expected to run out on Thursday, clearing the way for the measure to take effect. While Congress can pass resolutions of disapproval to overturn local laws in the District of Columbia, political observers say it is unlikely that will happen in this case.

So what, exactly, becomes legal this week?

In Alaska, adults over 21 will be able to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow six plants (with no more than three being mature at any time). Alaskans can also share up to one ounce of marijuana and six immature plants with other people over 21.

In D.C., people over 21 people will be able to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and grow six plants (with no more than three being mature). People in the nation’s capital will also be allowed to share up to one ounce of marijuana with other adults over 21.

In both places, consuming the drug in public will remain illegal.

The overall situation in D.C. is a little more complex due to the fact that Congress has so much power over the city. While, as mentioned above, it seems unlikely Congress will pass a resolution of disapproval stopping the city from enacting its legalization initiative by Thursday, some legislators have tried to interfere in other ways. A budget bill that passed late last year contains language preventing the District from spending money to “enact” any law to lower the penalties for marijuana. But District officials and Congressional Democrats argued that the legalization initiative was self-executing and was already “enacted” by the time the federal spending bill was signed into law in December.

Some Republicans in Congress have floated the idea of suing D.C. if it moves forward to implement the voter-passed law. If that happens, and a lawsuit is filed seeking to prevent the initiative from taking effect, the fate of legal marijuana possession and cultivation in D.C. could depend on a court’s interpretation of the word “enact.”

In either case, many opponents and proponents agree that the funding language will make it difficult if not impossible to spend money enacting any further marijuana reforms, such as a program to legalize, tax, and regulate sales of the drug. But barring any big surprises it will soon be legal to at least grow and smoke marijuana in the nation’s capital.

Voters in Oregon also passed a marijuana measure in November, but its provisions legalizing possession and cultivation don’t take effect until July 1.


About Author

Tom Angell covers policy and politics for Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit organization Marijuana Majority, which works to ensure that elected officials and the media treat legalization as a serious, mainstream issue. Marijuana Majority led the effort to get the U.S. Conference of Mayors to pass a resolution telling the federal government to respect state marijuana laws, and orchestrated the first-ever endorsement for marijuana legalization by a U.S. Supreme Court justice (John Paul Stevens). Previously, Tom worked for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (All organizations are listed for identification purposes only.)

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