Legalization supporters in Alaska have a powerful new voice on their side. A group of active and retired cops are appearing in a set of statewide TV and radio ads promoting a marijuana reform initiative on the ballot Nov. 4.
“In all my years on the streets, it’s hard to recall a single time where marijuana use itself was the cause of a violent incident,” Jess Gondek, an officer in Valdez, Alaska, says in one of the TV ads. “As a police officer, I do believe Ballot Measure 2 will allow law enforcement to focus on more serious issues in Alaska.”
Another ad, also running on TV, features Bill Parker, a former deputy commissioner for the Alaska prison system. Like the first ad, this one notes that police have made more than 8,000 arrests for small-time marijuana crimes.
“The war on marijuana is wasteful, and it hasn’t worked,” Parker says in the spot. Police have limited time and resources, he says, and using them to enforce minor cannabis offenses is like “using a hammer to go after a mosquito.”
Laurie Constantino, Alaska’s former chief prosecutor, appears in a third ad, this one on radio. She says laws against weed use “aren’t working” and “have caused more problems than they’ve solved.”
The ad campaign is sponsored by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, a group backed by the Marijuana Policy Project and the Drug Policy Alliance, both national reform groups.
The spots are running in advance of the Nov. 4 election. Voters will decide then whether they want to legalize pot completely.
The drug is already decriminalized in Alaska. That, at least, is the practical result of a 40-year-old state Supreme Court decision, which said residents may possess up to four ounces at home for personal use. Growing, processing, and selling all remain illegal, though that would change if the ballot initiative passes.
Polls show a relatively close race, though pro-weed activists are given the edge by most observers. The state has a long history of tolerance toward marijuana users, so legalization isn’t a terribly big leap.
Not every cop in the state is on board, though. A group of 10 Alaska police chiefs met in Anchorage in October to express their disapproval.
“We already have the highest arrest rates [for substance abuse] of any Alaska community,” said Nome Police Chief John Papasodora. “I can see that increasing” if the ballot measure passes.
Measure 2, as the proposal is called, would allow adults over 21 to possess up to one ounce of weed and grow up to six plants for personal use. It would also legalize cultivation and sale. Paraphernalia is also covered by the measure.