By Brian Wright for Seward City News –
This fall local and regional voters will once again be confronted with one of the most controversial personal liberty issues in the state when they are asked to vote on Kenai Peninsula Proposition 1. Proposition 1 seeks to “prohibit the operation of any commercial marijuana establishment outside of the Borough cities.” Such a measure, if passed, would effectively ban legal recreational marijuana in unincorporated areas of the borough. The upcoming vote will be held on October 3, 2017, sparking special interest groups to hit the streets campaigning.
One such group is Keep Cannabis Legal, who has been holding rallies across the peninsula, including a recent event in Seward on June 9th. The group consists of long-time Kenai Peninsula residents, homeowners and small business entrepreneurs whose unifying goal is to promote the economic benefits and the expression of personal freedom of the legal recreational cannabis industry.
“(The) Seward presentation was very receptive,” commented Dollynda Phelps, whose task is to create the Economic Impact Presentation for the group. Phelps is the owner of Peace Frog Botanicals, a cultivation facility, as well as a former member of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Marijuana Task Force and a course provider for the state-required Marijuana Handler permit. “Lots of questions were asked, good questions that were not fear driven.”
Leif Abel, another Keep Cannabis Legal member and former chairman of the KPB Marijuana Task Force, echoed the frustration he heard during the Seward event. “People wonder why we have to vote on this again.”
Several Alaskan groups, such as Big Marijuana. Big Mistake. Vote No on 2, have opposed legal cannabis in Alaska. Publications released by the group highlighted concerns about potential increases in use by the youth population, the dangerous effects of cannabis on brain development, surges in black market trade, and the expansion of homelessness. “Marijuana usage among teens is on the rise, while perceived risk is in free fall,” the group noted in a press release. “Efforts to legitimize the recreational use of marijuana sends a dangerous message to teens that ‘legal’ equals ‘safe’.”
Keep Cannabis Legal members, however, were quick to point out efforts to stem potential negative consequences. “The Kenai Peninsula had the wisdom over two years ago to create a Marijuana Task Force…to study and recommend the best course of action,” noted Abel. “The legal market cannabis is grown in regulated facilities, lab tested and sold in secure stores where everyone is carded. This is a better system that keeps more drugs out of children’s hands.”
Alaskans have grappled with the cannabis issue ever since 1975 when the Alaska Supreme Court decided in Ravin v. State that “no adequate justification for the state’s intrusion into the citizen’s right to privacy by its prohibition of possession of marijuana by an adult for personal consumption in the home has been shown.” This landmark ruling made Alaska the first state to defend a person’s right to private, in-home marijuana use. Over the next several decades state legislatures and judicial outlets have bounced back and forth, re-criminalizing and decriminalizing through various referendums and court cases.
Most recently, recreational cannabis was approved by Alaska Measure 2 in 2014 with 53.23% of voters in favor and 46.67% against, making Alaska the third state (behind Colorado and Washington) to allow recreational marijuana.
Cannabis remains a schedule I controlled substance under federal law and conflicting state vs. federal regulations remain a critical point for the issue. Newly appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a hard-line stance against legal cannabis, asking Congress to reject legislation that would largely allow states to regulate such laws for themselves. Sessions further elucidated his views in April 2016 when he stated his opinion in a Senate drug hearing that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
“You are looking at the dying throes of an outdated animal,” replied Abel when asked about Sessions’ comments. “Folks who think like this are not looking at science or reason.” Phelps agreed, adding, “It is dumbfounding how Jeff Sessions and a few others are willfully turning a blind eye to cannabis research, both in the scientific and medical field. It is particularly worrisome that they will not even acknowledge the hundreds of documented studies chronicled on the U.S. National Institute of Health website…I am hoping facts outweigh fiction.”
You can view the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s election information page for a full description of Proposition 1 and its intended change to cannabis regulations. You can also find a more thorough presentation against Proposition 1 from Keep Cannabis Legal and how it pertains to the Kenai Peninsula specifically on their website.