So, what’s a vote worth, really?
A new ordinance introduced at last night’s Anchorage Assembly meeting aims to block parts of the ballot initiative legalizing marijuana. AO-148 is sponsored by Eagle River Assemblywoman Amy Demboski and midtown Assemblyman Dick Traini, an unlikely duo usually on opposite ends of votes. East side Assemblyman Paul Honeman also signed on as a co-sponsor. Demboski is running for mayor, and Traini and Honeman are both rumored to be mulling a run (along with half of Anchorage).
Voters in Alaska passed Ballot Measure 2 in this year’s midterm elections. The initiative legalizes the manufacture, sale, and possession of marijuana and taxes it at $50 per ounce. 90 days after the 2014 midterm election results are certified, the bill takes effect. The legislature will then have nine months to set up a regulatory framework, which it can do itself by establishing a Marijuana Control Board, or (less likely) they may cede control of that process to the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board. Retail marijuana stores are still more than a year away.
However, within the initiative is the allowance of localities to opt out. Under the opt out provision, local governments can ban retail sale of marijuana, while possession and cultivation would still be legal. Demboski and Traini are looking to exercise that option, despite the initiative being supported by voters in the municipality (albeit by a very small margin).
This is already the second time the Assembly has made a move against legal weed, despite the vote being only two weeks old and the results not yet certified. In September, the body passed a resolution opposing the initiative. The pro-legalization campaign cried foul, accusing Traini, who sponsored the resolution, of colluding with the No on 2 campaign. The Assembly’s decision to make an endorsement on a ballot initiative drew criticism, including from me. “We’ve received no information on this,” Assemblyman Bill Evans said at the time. And yet they told voters to vote against it.
The new ordinance, Demboski told Alaska Dispatch News reporter Suzanna Caldwell, is aimed a preventing Anchorage from serving as a “guinea pig” for retail marijuana in the state, suggesting that the municipality take a “wait and see” approach. “Wait and see” was the strategy repeated endlessly by the No on 2 campaign (what we’re waiting to see and how long we should wait to see it was never specified).
Voters did not take them up on it.
In the same ADN article, No on 2 spokesperson Jeff Jessee said: “To say people have spoken on the issue of retail and commercialization, I don’t think you can say that[.]”
What was the point of voting then?
It also creates a bit of a sticky situation for Demboski, given her past defense on preferring a public vote over legislative redress.
By way of an incredibly convoluted process, another item shared the ballot with Ballot Measure 2 in Anchorage. Ballot Measure 1 was the referendum on AO-37, the labor law rewrite passed in 2013. As late as three months ago, voters weren’t entirely sure that it would make it onto the ballot. Traini and others were trying to repeal it legislatively.
But, in that case, Demboski offered staunch objection on behalf of voters:
I believe, as a representative of you, that I don’t have the right to block your voice. And what I did see was over 20,000 people sign a petition who said ‘I’m not too stupid to understand this. I want to vote on it.’ So, I’m not going to stand here and say that you can’t understand it. I am not an emperor. I do not have that right.
If 20,000 residents of the city of Anchorage want to vote on this, I have every faith and confidence you will make a good decision, whatever that decision may be. And the one thing I want to talk — we talked about, you know, the assembly, the administration, the employees, which, I want to recognize the fact that [public] employees are tax payers. But there’s another silent majority here. There are the non-employee taxpayers and residents of Anchorage.
And I am here today to stand up and say they have a right to vote on this. So, I will not be supporting the [AO-37 repeal ordinance]. Instead, I will be supporting the voters of the Municipality of Anchorage, to vote on this topic, whatever the outcome may be. That’s my position…. I want you to know that I trust you. And I want to see this voted on by the people.
Apparently, the public will as represented by the vote for Ballot Measure 1 is more important to uphold than the public will represented by Ballot Measure 2. I’m not sure I get how that works.
In September, the Assembly’s resolution opposing Ballot Measure 2 passed 9-2. Obviously, nothing guarantees that the vote on AO-148 will match that tally — and five members expressed hesitancy given the timing. But the fate of the initiative to legalize marijuana and tax and regulate it like alcohol — the thing that voters voted for — is very much in the Assembly’s hands, and they can opt out on our behalf.
The initiative process is a tool to be used, specifically, in cases where a group feels as though their redress of grievances are being ignored by those elected to represent them. In the case of Ballot Measure 2, organizers turned in over 45,000 signatures from registered voters across Alaska. On November 3rd, 148,788 Alaskans — including 58,052 Anchorage residents — voted to legalize recreational marijuana, retail stores and all. The objection that voters didn’t understand what they were voting for is not only antithetical to Demboski’s opinion when it came to Ballot Measure 1, it’s patently irrelevant. The will of the people is the will of the people.
Now, that will of the people is in the hands of 11 assembly members. Demboski said it’s so we can “wait and see” what voters have gotten themselves into, but she’s introduced the ordinance opting out before the regulatory framework is in place. So, the voters won’t know what they’re getting themselves out of either. We don’t yet know what retail marijuana stores in the municipality would look like; we don’t know what the revenue would be put towards (Colorado saw $8 million in tax revenue in July alone, part of which was used by the state to award grants to schools).
The Assembly will hold a public hearing on December 16. Nine (ladies dancing) days before Christmas. Sorry if that disrupts any holiday plans.