Weed Is Legal in Alaska Now

Leaves of the marijuana plant
(Image credit: Yellowj/Shutterstock.com)

Alaska joins Colorado and Washington today (Feb. 24) as the third U.S. state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

Back in November, Alaskan voters approved a ballot initiative to make pot legal. Now, that measure goes into effect, meaning adults 21 and older are allowed to carry up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants in their home.

Consuming pot in public is still illegal, and for now, so is selling pot in the state. Retail cannabis shops likely won't open until 2016, as Alaskastate officials are only now crafting regulations for a new industry of marijuana growers and sellers. [Where Americans Smoke and Grow Marijuana (Maps)]

Marijuana was actually decriminalized in the state in 1975, with an Alaska Supreme Court decision that ruled privacy protections in Alaska's Constitution gave adults the right to use and possess a small amount of pot for personal use. But this ruling was at odds with state and federal laws, and the legal status of pot in Alaska has been somewhat shrouded in confusion for the past 40 years, as this Washington Post article explains.

Alaska has high rates of marijuana use compared with the rest of the United States. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), conducted between 2000 and 2011, just over 64 percent of Alaskans ages 18 to 60 had tried pot at least once. Alaska also led the nation in the share of pot users who grew their own weed: 4.1 percent, according to the NSDUH data.

Voters in Oregon also approved a measure to legalize the recreational use of pot, and to make it legal for people to set up pot shops. That initiative doesn't take effect until July, and as is the case with Alaska, would-be pot retailers in Oregon won't be able to obtain licenses until 2016. People in the District of Columbia, too, voted to allow adults 21 and older to possess and grow small amounts of pot, but selling marijuana is still prohibited. 

As more states warm up to weed, support for pot legalization in the rest of the country is becoming more mainstream. A Gallup poll from October 2013 found that 58 percent of Americans said marijuana should be legal — a new high at the time.

If you're seeking more specific information about what you can and can't do with pot in Alaska, the Anchorage Police Department has a "Know Your Grow" awareness campaign, and Alaska's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has a page of FAQs. The Alaska Dispatch also launched a regular feature, "Highly Informed," this month.

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Megan Gannon
Live Science Contributor
Megan has been writing for Live Science and Space.com since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.