VALDEZ, Alaska (Nov. 10, 2016) – Alaska’s first retail marijuana shop recently opened its doors, despite federal prohibition that supposedly bans the sale of the plant.
According to an AP report, more than 250 people lined up outside Herbal Outfitters in Valdez prior to the noon opening last Saturday. Some came from as far away as Fairbanks, more than 350 miles to the north.
“It’s a historic moment,” store owner Richard Ballow said. “I feel like I am blessed and honored to be a part of this.”
Voters in Alaska approved a referendum legalizing possession of up to an ounce of marijuana outside of a home in November 2014.
The state’s first testing lab opened in Anchorage earlier in the week after clearing all of its regulatory hurdles. The facility will test cannabis flowers, edibles and concentrates. Two marijuana shops were scheduled to open this week in Anchorage.
Including Alaska, four states have legalized recreational use of marijuana, despite absolute federal prohibition.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
State legalization removes one layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition remains in place.
Of course, the federal government lacks any lawful authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
While Alaska law does not alter federal law, it takes a step toward stopping in effect the federal ban. FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By easing state prohibition, Alaska essentially sweeps the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
Alaska is among a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition. Colorado, Oregon, Washington state have all also legalized both recreational and medical marijuana, and more than 2-dozen states now allow cannabis for medical use. Voters in eight states will consider ballot measures to legalize marijuana either for medical or general adult use in the general election. With half the country legalizing marijuana, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more. The feds need state cooperation to fight the “drug war,” and that has rapidly evaporated in the last few years with state legalization, practically thwarting the ban.
“The lesson here is pretty straight forward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” public policy analyst Michael Boldin said.
The new shops in Alaska are certainly just the first step. History has show once a state puts laws in place legalizing marijuana, it tends to eventually expand. Once the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand increases. That creates pressure to further relax state law.