POLITICS
04/17/2013 04:49 pm ET

Alaska Legal Marijuana Push Takes Key Step Toward Vote

AP

Marijuana activists in Alaska took an important step Tuesday toward making their state the third in the nation to approve recreational use of the drug, McClatchy reports.

Pot advocates collected the requisite 100 signatures and introduced draft language of the initiative to the Alaska lieutenant governor’s office, the first requirement for a measure to appear on the ballot during Alaska's primary in August 2014. The initiative would allow the state to regulate and tax marijuana sales, while also making it legal for Alaskans to grow marijuana for personal use. Alaska state officials now have 60 days to review the signatures and draft language of the proposed initiative. If approved, supporters will need to collect an additional 30,169 signatures by January 2014 to guarantee that the measure will appear on the ballot.

If the campaign ultimately succeeds, Alaska would join Colorado and Washington as the only states to legalize recreational Marijuana use by adults 21 or older. Voters in Colorado and Washington approved new laws at the polls in November, but state officials are still awaiting a conclusive response from the federal government while they make headway on implementing the new measures.

While the Justice Department has remained silent on how it intends to respond to state marijuana laws that contradict federal statutes, a bipartisan group of congressmen introduced legislation last week to resolve the conflict. The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2013 would amend the Controlled Substances Act to ensure that individuals and businesses acting in accordance with state marijuana laws are protected from federal prosecution.

"This bipartisan bill represents a common-sense approach that establishes federal government respect for all states' marijuana laws," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), the legislation's co-sponsor, in a press release. "It does so by keeping the federal government out of the business of criminalizing marijuana activities in states that don't want it to be criminal."

Federal and state legislation to relax the prohibition on marijuana use echoes a shift in public opinion. Earlier this month the Pew Research Center found that 52 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization. This was the first time in more than 40 years of polling on marijuana that a majority supported legalization, Pew said in its report.

Alaskans opposed a marijuana legalization measure in 2004, but a survey from Public Policy Polling conducted from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3. found that 54 percent of Alaskans now support legalization.

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