Alaska Marijuana Legalization Initiative One Step from 2004 Ballot 1/2/04

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An initiative that would legalize the possession, growing and sale of marijuana has officially achieved the number of signatures necessary to be placed on the November 2004 election ballot. All that remains is for slow-moving state officials to certify the signatures.

Under an Alaska appeals court ruling in August, marijuana possession by adults in the privacy of their homes is already legal. An initiative that would have legalized marijuana and established a commission to study reparations for people arrested under the marijuana laws mustered only 40% of the votes in the November 2000 election.

This time, the initiative's organizers, Free Hemp in Alaska, have been a little bit less ambitious. According to the measure's language, "Persons, 21 years or older, shall not be prosecuted, be denied any right or privilege, nor be subject to criminal or civil penalties for the possession, cultivation, distribution, or consumption of" hemp. The measure defines hemp broadly to include "hemp, cannabis, or marijuana, or any part or preparation of the plant Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, Cannabis americana, or any species or variety of plant of the genus Cannabis."

Initiative organizers had had problems with the state official in charge of certifying initiatives, Lt. Gov. Loren Leman. A prominent foe of drug reform, Leman is known for leading a 1999 effort to undo the state's medical marijuana law. In January 2003, Leman threw out hundreds of booklets filled with qualifying signatures, citing violations of state law. But in September, an appeals court judge ordered him to reinstate those booklets, calling the elections office run by Leman "a snake in the grass" and describing the signature-gathering errors as "trivial rules violations."

Late in November, Leman notified organizers that they had reached the 28,782 signatures necessary to qualify for the ballot. His staff told the Juneau Empire this week that they expect certification to take place "within a couple of weeks."

Visit http://www.freehempinak.org to read the Alaska initiative online.

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