Native Municipal Leaders: Pot-Legalization Law Could Harm Youths, Communities

Alaska Native municipal leaders say a new state law that will legalize the use and sale of marijuana could damage people in communities. Last week they told an Anchorage attorney who’s researched the law that the tax it authorizes won’t raise enough money to repair that damage.

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Attorney Matt Singer says he’s been getting questions from local-government officials about the new pot-legalization law. And he got a lot more from a roomful of the officials Thursday during a session sponsored by the Alaska Municipal League.

Alaska Native leaders weren’t happy to hear Singer’s answer to a question on whether communities can ban the personal use of pot.

“So, you cannot declare a dry village, the way you can with alcohol,” he said.

North Slope Borough Assemblyman Forrest Olemaun said after the session that he and most other Native leaders oppose the law because of the damage substance abuse has inflicted on indigenous peoples.

“For many years, we’ve been dealing with the social aspects of alcohol and drug abuse,’” Olemaun said. “And my concern (is) the legalization of marijuana may lead to more use, more abuse.”

North Slope Borough Mayor Charlotte Brower says legalized pot could jeopardize the borough’s efforts to keep young people away from drugs so they can qualify for good-paying jobs with industries that prohibit their use.

She says the borough will continue to drug test its employees and maintain a drug-free workplace.

“We will continue to do that until we are forced in courts that (rule) that we are doing something illegal,” Brower said.

Singer told the municipal leaders that nothing in the law will change drug-free workplace policies. But He said both public and private employers will have to make it clear to workers that the new law does not exempt them from such policies.

Olemaun says he’s also concerned that the $50-per-ounce excise tax that the law requires to be levied on the sale of pot won’t raise enough money to pay for increase drug-treatment and rehabilitation that he believes will be needed.

“My fear is that’s not going to be enough to deal with the negative social impacts,” he said, “and if there’ll be a mechanism in place to adequately fund agencies that are having to deal with this, whether it be state, local or tribal.”

Singer says the municipal officials should be talking about that with their legislators, who can increase that tax and make other changes in the law.

“Any ballot initiative can be amended by the Legislature immediately,” he said. “So the Legislature could start tinkering with this as soon as it goes into session. And the Legislature has the right to repeal, or vacate a ballot initiative after two years.”

Singer said afterward that the new law raises many questions that will have to be answered by the courts.

“Ballot Measure 2 marks a major change in Alaska law. And any time there’s a change, it creates uncertainty,” he said. “And so I expect there’ll be litigation, and disputes.”

Singer says the litigation may delay the part of the law dealing with the production and sale of marijuana. He says the part of the law allowing personal use will go into effect by March 1st.