Most Alaskans are probably pretty knowledgeable about the state’s recreational marijuana laws, but visitors may not be. It’s been 3 years since Alaskans voted in a referendum to legalize the possession of marijuana in small amounts and the growing of pot plants in small numbers, too. Has legalization had any effect on driving and accident rates?
Alaska is not the only state or the first one to venture down the legalization highway. There are currently seven other states (as of June 2017) that have legalized the use and possession of marijuana for recreational use and others that allow it for medicinal use only at this stage. Washington and Colorado were the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana, followed fairly swiftly by Alaska, Oregon, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Washington D.C.
As the states have only made these changes to state law quite recently, they are not all at the same stage. An interesting fact is that federal law actually makes it illegal to possess or grow marijuana, let alone sell it, but federal prosecutors have been basically told to ignore any states where state law contradicts federal law on the use of marijuana for recreational purposes.
Alaska’s marijuana legislation
For anyone who is unsure of the law in Alaska, here it is. 53 percent of Alaskans who were allowed to vote, voted to legalize recreational use of marijuana in November 2014. The ballot was called Ballot Measure 2. Only adults who are 21 or over can possess up to one ounce of the substance. They can also grow up to 6 individual pot plants, 3 with flowers. They can also possess any of the marijuana that comes from those plants or even give it away (not sell it).
Alaska’s liberal marijuana laws do not extend to selling marijuana. There are now a small number of licensed marijuana stores in Alaska, selling products that have been legally commercially grown in the state.
It is also illegal to give marijuana to a minor (anyone less than 21), take it out of the state, or consume it in a public place. The only places where you can smoke marijuana legally are at home or in another private property where it is allowed.
Marijuana and driving
It is illegal to drive while under the influence of marijuana. If you are stopped by police and officers suspect that you are impaired, you may be arrested for DUI, just like you might if you have been drinking and then driving. Impairment after taking marijuana is actually more difficult to quantify as there is no specific amount in the bloodstream that determines DUI, like there is for alcohol. For alcohol, anything more than 0.08% of alcohol in the blood may be illegal.
Do states that have legalized marijuana have higher accident rates?
This is an intriguing question and one that cannot be answered directly for Alaska yet, as no research seems to have been carried out in this state. But there have been at least two reports released elsewhere in the country that have compared accident rates and fatality rates in states where marijuana is legal with states where it is not. One survey, published by the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) recorded fatality rates in Colorado and Washington (both now states where marijuana is legal) with non legal states between 2009 and 2015. Their results showed no significant difference.
Contradicting that was another study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) which compared collision rates in Colorado, Washington and Oregon between 2009 and 2016 with neighboring states where legalization is not permitted. The results showed a small but significant difference (3% higher in the 3 states that had legalized pot) in collision rates. Note that the two surveys cannot be directly compared as they did not look at exactly the same factors.
With marijuana legalization still in its infancy in Alaska, it is possible that you may be arrested for a crime that you have not committed. While it is not a good defense to state that you were ignorant of the law, it is entirely feasible that you may have been wrongly arrested or there was insufficient evidence for a conviction. Whatever the circumstances, you have a right to competent and effective legal representation under the law. Contact the Law Office of Dattan Scott Dattan in Anchorage Alaska for help with DUI or charges in relation to the use of marijuana. You can contact Dattan Scott Dattan on 907 276 8008.