Out of the four states in the 2014 election with marijuana reform on the ballot, Alaska was the most surprising. When you think of states likely to legalize marijuana, California is usually the first state that comes to mind. On election night, everyone was shocked to see that Alaska voters approved recreational marijuana with 52 percent of the vote.
Alaska’s victory was a monumental blow against the prohibitionist movement, but that victory could be somewhat short lived if one Anchorage politician gets to spoil the moment. According to The Cannabist, Alaskan Assembly member and prospective mayoral candidate Amy Demboski plans on introducing a city ordinance on November 25 that, if passed, would ban the sale of recreational marijuana in Anchorage.
In an interview, Demboski spoke with the Alaska Dispatch about the proposed ordinance. “The city of Anchorage isn’t going to be the guinea pig for commercial marijuana in Alaska,” said Demboski. “We’re going to step back and see how regulations are developed and then going to make a decision to opt in or out.”
The problem with Demboski’s statement is that Anchorage more or less constitutes Alaska. According to the 2010 Census, Anchorage has 291,826 people, which means nearly half of the state’s population is in one city. That means there will be eleven people that get to decide the fate of an industry for almost half of the state’s population; not only does that go against the free market, it is borderline undemocratic.
Bruce Schulte, spokesman for the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation and Anchorage resident, spoke with Reuters about his concern over the Assembly potentially counter-acting the will of the people. “They told 51 percent of the Anchorage voters who passed this that their time and energy has been wasted because 11 members of the Assembly know better,” Schulte said. “That’s not good governance.”
In any other case banning marijuana sales might be justifiable; some cities and counties in Colorado have done so. However, when almost half of the state lives in your city and you essentially try to overturn an election, it makes you look like a sore loser. Elections used to have consequences, now they just seem to start another battle.
If this ordinance passes on Tuesday, all will not be lost for the cannabis industry in Alaska. As the first retail marijuana licenses will not be available until early 2016, so there will be plenty of time to overturn any ordinance that passes before 2016.
Investors are already clamoring across the country to get their foot in the cannabis industry’s door, but in the case of Alaska, you might want to wait a little bit. Until out-of-touch politicians stop trying to overturn elections, prudence is required. You do not want to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in an investment to have someone say, “Oh yeah, that investment of yours? It’s now illegal.”