Home Politics John Aronno: On Politics Opposing Sides in Marijuana Debate Offer Closing Arguments

Opposing Sides in Marijuana Debate Offer Closing Arguments


Over the weekend, KTUU’s Steve MacDonald moderated the final televised debate covering Ballot Measure 2 — the attempt to legalize marijuana and regulate and tax it like alcohol. The brief exchange took place on the network’s “Political Pipeline” show, between Jeff Jessee (No on 2) and Bruce Schulte (Yes on 2). It adequately summarized the arguments offered by both camps over the past year.

Edibles and Blow Torches.

One of the major concerns over legalization raised by the No campaign has been that legal weed comes with many byproducts, like edibles and Butane Hash Oil (BHO). Edibles come in a variety of forms, and offer marijuana users a way to ingest marijuana without smoking it. But the opponents to Ballot Measure 2 point to edibles that could appeal (and be marketed) to children; like gummy bears injected with THC.

“When you see them in the wrappers, they look like candy,” McDonald said. “How do you address the potential danger for children with this?”

“Nobody that I’ve ever met or talked to thinks its a good idea to market cannabis infused products to kids. That’s just a silly idea,” Shulte responded. He pointed to the initiative’s language, which grants the legislature — through the marijuana control board, or the Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) Board — to determine regulations around marketing, packaging, and more. “We are expecting that every marijuana product will need to be tested and labeled for potency, for content, so that consumers know what they are getting and that it is safe.”

Jessee disagreed, saying that it was irresponsible to introduce edibles into the community. He said that the language of the petition would not allow the state to ban edibles altogether. On this point, he is likely correct. But edibles have benefits that supporters believe justify their inclusion in the market. Food items with added THC, like brownies or popcorn, offer marijuana users a way to ingest marijuana — including for medicinal use — without inhaling carcinogens contained in cannabis smoke.

“They say you can regulate marijuana like alcohol,” Jessee added. “But in the alcohol arena, we don’t allow the alcohol to be extracted into alcohol powders and put in edibles. It’s prohibited by law.”

Powdered alcohol is in a state of legal limbo, but the concept is neither illegal nor new. The strict analogy of powder in alcohol and marijuana in edibles is rough. The marketing and sale of alcohol-infused edibles like cupcakes, strawberries, popsicles, lollipops, cakes, whipped cream, and more are just a Pinterest Board away.

Butane Hash Oil (BHO) is another story entirely. BHO is a marijuana extract that, basically, produces pure THC by blasting the pot with butane, leaving only a resin that is then vaporized. This can be done a number of ways, but one method called dabbing (which involves a blow torch) has been resulting in grim headlines. The process can easily result in a build up of butane, which is odorless, highly flammable, and easy to spark — especially by someone currently enjoying, as the Vice News “Weediquette” column describes, “a high that envelopes you and renders you pretty much useless.”

At least 20 people nationwide have been killed in the explosions, which can level buildings. In Colorado and Washington, states where marijuana is legal, incidents appear to be on the rise.

“Hash oil is not explosive,” Schulte countered. “Butane is. Just are propane and aviation and auto fuel.”

He noted that commercial facilities, like Evolab in Colorado, have developed safer means of creating CO2 extracts, which they call “Dabs 2.0,” after the state began requiring that all concentrates be tested.

“The safe direction is to regulate this, put it in the hand of responsible businesses who are going to conduct those processes in a controlled environment with suitable equipment.”

In Washington, lawmakers are considering steeper penalties for those who produce BHO outside of regulated facilities, possibly including manslaughter, arson, and reckless endangerment charges.

New Revenue or Price Tag?

MacDonald raised the dueling narratives surrounding the revenue side of legalization. He noted the public stance taken by the Alaska Chief of Police opposing Ballot Measure 2, citing the cost to law enforcement. Anchorage Police Department Chief Mark Mew said that Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving (ARIDE) training and Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) training would likely cost the state $3.7 million.

The Marijuana Policy Group, which is funding the Yes on 2 group, estimates the state could see $23 million annually in revenue. But Schulte conceded that he did not believe there would be a large amount of revenue, saying it would be a drop in the bucket compared to oil and gas. There would be enough, he said, to cover the cost of implementation.

“The ACLU has estimated that in Alaska, law enforcement spends roughly $14-15 million annually prosecuting or pursuing marijuana related offenses. So, right there there’s a potential savings. The argument that law enforcement would have to spend more money to not enforce laws, to me, just makes no sense on the surface.”

Jessee maintained that legalization would translate to increases in DUIs, which would pull resources and money from law enforcement. He said that instances of marijuana use and DUIs in Colorado had doubled.

According to the Denver Post, while crime overall had actually decreased since legalization, DUI admissions involving marijuana jumped from eight percent in 2013 to 15 percent this year.

Pass or Fail?

On Tuesday, voters finally get to weigh in, and the talk of the black market, blow torches, and gummy bears will at least be momentarily muted.

Well, kind of. If the initiative passes, localities will then independently decide whether they will permit the commercial sale of alcohol. And whether it even gets to that point is very much up in the air.

Polling has been volatile, with the latest two polls showing two completely different pictures. Ivan Moore offered a snapshot where the proposal passes by a wide margin; 57.2 percent to 38.7 percent. Dittman went the other way around, finding that it could fail, 43 percent to 53.

Two of three other polls showed a narrow defeat.


  1. I pray Alaskans are not going to show the world we are stupid by not passing YES ON 2 in the 21 Century!
    Please End this Hypocrisy NOW and invest in people not prisons!!!

  2. Yeah, because obviously only stupid people would vote no. Obviously there aren’t any rational and intelligent reasons why someone would choose to vote no. We have to vote yes because “the world” is watching to see how Alaska votes; after all, this is such a huge issue in the world of geopolitics.

  3. Paragraph 3rd from the end, second sentence should end with “marijuana”, not “alcohol”.

    As for a substantive comment – I’m disappointed that no one is discussing how this state law will interact with federal law. Marijuana is still federally illegal. In 2011 the feds raided several dozen medical marijuana dispensaries in Montana – coordinated raids on the same day. Businesses that were abiding by state law, but since they were breaking federal law, they still got jail time, fines, probation, and had their businesses taken away. How is Alaska in 2014 any different than Montana in 2011?

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