By Jeff Richardson
A growing federal crackdown on medical marijuana has unfolded around the country in recent months, but in Alaska the vibe around the issue remains decidedly mellow.
The Obama administration vowed in 2009 to make medical marijuana oversight a low priority, and raids on pot dispensaries have indeed been down dramatically during the last two years. But federal prosecutors have recently signaled intentions to crack down, issuing memos that indicate they’re tired of perceived abuse of medical marijuana.
It’s caused politicians and law enforcement officials across the country to re-examine their approach to medical pot, which has been legalized in Alaska, 13 other states and Washington, D.C., mostly through voter initiatives.
But the issue creates little buzz in Alaska more than a dozen years after 58 percent of the state’s voters in 1998 made Alaska one of the first states to sanction marijuana for medical use.
Why isn’t Alaska the site of protests and federal crackdowns?
That’s likely because of the way Alaska’s medical marijuana law was written. Unlike other states, where systems have been set up to sell medical pot, there isn’t a mechanism in Alaska for legally acquiring the drug.
Dispensaries, which have been the target of federal raids in other states, don’t exist in Alaska, and the Legislature has shown no interest in creating a system for setting them up.
Anchorage-based U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler said she’s never dealt with a medical marijuana case in Alaska since taking the job two years ago. Since the distribution of pot isn’t part of the law approved by voters, she doesn’t expect that to change.
“Alaska has never legalized the sale of marijuana, so it’s different than other states,” she said.
A low-key issue
The prohibition on pot sales – even for approved uses – keeps Alaska out of the conflict but puts local medical marijuana users in an awkward situation.
State officials won’t explicitly say so, but obtaining marijuana for medical purposes in Alaska almost always needs to start with an illicit transaction. There’s no approved method in Alaska for buying marijuana or its seeds for medical use.
“(The law) doesn’t really address how you’re supposed to get it,” said Phillip Mitchell, who is in charge of the Alaska medical marijuana registry.
The state doesn’t say much at all about its medical marijuana program. The subject barely appears on the state of Alaska website, with little more than a link to an application form on the Bureau of Vital Statistics page.
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