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Voters legalize recreational marijuana in Alaska

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A man left the Valley Bible Chalet polling location after voting in the morning hours on Tuesday, in Indian, Alaska, south of Anchorage. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska » Alaskans have voted to move pot out of the closet. Now it will be up to state officials to decide how marijuana will be publicly sold and taxed.

Alaska on Tuesday became the fourth state, along with Washington, D.C., to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

Taylor Bickford, spokesman for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said in a prepared statement that it was time to establish a robust regulatory system that sets an example for other states. A regulated marijuana market will generate millions in tax revenue and create jobs for Alaskans, he said.

"Law enforcement will be able to spend their time addressing serious crimes instead of enforcing failed marijuana prohibition laws," Bickford said.

The group planned an afternoon press conference to discuss implementation.

The Alaska ballot measure, which will take effect nine months after the election results are certified, makes marijuana use legal for people 21 or older. Smoking it in public will remain prohibited.

Adults will no longer be arrested under state law for possession of up to an ounce. They will no longer be prosecuted under state law for growing small amounts — up to six plants, with three flowering.

Pot is already legal in small quantities in users’ homes. A 1975 Alaska Supreme Court ruling on privacy rights cleared the way for Alaskans to possess small amounts.

Alaska in the late 1990s legalized medical marijuana, but the state did not create dispensaries where it could be purchased.

The new measure allows registered entities to possess, store, show and sell pot. They will be able to buy it wholesale from registered growers.

It calls for a $50-per-ounce excise tax on the sale of marijuana from a cultivation facility to a retail store or marijuana product manufacturing facility. The state will collect the revenue in monthly payments.

The bill creates procedures for registering a marijuana retail store. The procedures would be managed by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. The Alaska Legislature could create a separate Marijuana Control Board.

Municipal governments have the option of prohibiting businesses that sell marijuana through ordinances or voter initiatives. Individual employers could continue to prohibit marijuana use. Schools, jails, hospitals and private entities can still restricting marijuana on their property.

With all 441 Alaska precincts reporting, yes votes on Ballot Measure 2 were ahead by 9,624 votes, a roughly 52 percent-to-48 percent split. There remain more than 22,000 early and absentee votes to be counted and the potential for more. About 13,800 absentee ballots have not been returned, according to the Division of Elections.

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