- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 16, 2014

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - The group behind a ballot measure to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Alaska said Wednesday it would gladly contribute funds to their opponents - if they prove pot is more dangerous than alcohol.

The challenge was made by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol and involves both a new local opposition group and a national campaign that seeks to keep pot illegal.

Marijuana opponents, meanwhile, have dismissed the offer as a “distraction from a serious issue” and called on pot supporters to donate the money to groups that fight substance abuse.

Alaska voters will decide during the Aug. 19 primary whether the state should become the third, behind Colorado and Washington, to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Proponents turned in more than 46,000 signatures - about 30,000 were needed - to get the issue on the ballot.

Chris Rempert, the political director of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, says a person is much more likely to overdose on alcohol than marijuana, long-term alcohol consumption causes more deaths than chronic marijuana use and violent crimes are committed by drunken people far more often than by people who are high.

He says that if his opponents could scientifically disprove those three contentions then his group would gladly contribute just over $9,000 to their cause.

The money, Rempert said, represents the amount the leader of a national anti-marijuana group collected in campaign donations from alcohol lobbyists during his time in Congress.

Messages from The Associated Press to a spokesman for former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, a Rhode Island Democrat, weren’t immediately returned Wednesday.

Kennedy’s group, Project SAM, has communicated with an Alaska opposition group that formed this week, calling itself “Big Marijuana Big Mistake. Vote No On 2.”

Pot supporters are criticizing the “No On 2” campaign along the same lines as the national group, saying one of the opposition leaders is part owner of an Anchorage restaurant that sells beer.

“It is troubling that the effort to keep marijuana illegal for Alaskan adults is being led by individuals who have personally benefited from the promotion of alcohol,” said Tim Hinterberger, one of the initiative sponsors.

Tim Woolston, part owner of Fat Ptarmigan and deputy treasurer for the opposition group, said in an email to the AP, “We expect that there will be personal attacks, but this is just a distraction from a serious issue.”

He said that as Alaska residents “learn more they will see the negative impacts this issue will have on our state.”

Another of the “No On 2” deputy treasurers, Deborah Williams, former head of the Alaska Democratic Party, said she hopes the pot supporters donate the money “to organizations in Alaska who are dealing with substance abuse and prevention.”

“We believe that the costs associated with this initiative far outweigh the benefits,” she said, noting that marijuana opposition is bipartisan.

Williams also said that her group reached out to Project SAM for information, and hasn’t received any money from the group.

A Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol spokesman said in an email to the AP that his group has received financial support from a national pro-marijuana group, the Marijuana Policy Project. As of late last month, the figure was about $130,000.

“The federal government is spending billions of dollars a year enforcing the failed policies (of) marijuana prohibition. If a nonprofit organization and its members around the country want to help Alaskans fight back, our campaign welcomes their support,” Taylor Bickford said.

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