- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 5, 2014

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Alaska was poised to become the fourth state to legalize recreational marijuana as a measure allowing pot use for people 21 and older held a steady lead in election returns.

With more than 90 percent of the state’s precincts reporting Tuesday, Alaskans were narrowly approving Ballot Measure 2.

Taylor Bickford, spokesman for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said he was cautiously optimistic.

“Obviously there’s still a lot of votes to be counted,” Bickford said. “But what’s clear is that a majority of Alaskans believe that marijuana prohibition has failed and that it’s time for a new approach.”

Deborah Williams, spokeswoman for Big Marijuana, Big Mistake, said she was disappointed.

“We’re going to wait and see how the final numbers look,” she said.

In a statement, Vote No on 2 campaign spokeswoman Kristina Woolston said the campaign was “humbled and honored” by the turnout. “We are proud of our grassroots campaign, and we look forward to a meaningful discussion of an Alaska-based approach to how this drug should be viewed legally and how to protect our communities and our kids from the commercialization of this substance,” she said.

The language to create a system of taxation and regulation is similar to a measure approved in Colorado and comes a decade after Alaska voters rejected legalizing pot in 2004.

Oregon voters also approved a recreational pot measure Tuesday. Washington state joined Colorado in legalizing recreational marijuana in 2012.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the group behind the Alaska initiative, said marijuana prohibition has been “as ineffective, wasteful, and problematic as alcohol prohibition.”

Pro-pot forces outspent the opposition by a huge margin, funded largely by a national group that backs legalization, the Marijuana Policy Project. Supporters said legalization would free up law enforcement to focus on more serious drug crimes and bring in additional revenue for the state.

Opponents included local governments, law enforcement agencies and Alaska Native and health care groups. The Vote No on 2 group said approval of the measure would harm villages that have no authority over marijuana, hurt children susceptible to mass marketing and run up social costs for damage done to families.

Alaska Native leaders, municipalities and law enforcement officials opposed the measure.

Pot is already legal in small quantities in users’ homes under a 1975 Alaska Supreme Court ruling on privacy rights. An overriding theme among voters in midtown Anchorage was the amount of money spent to enforce marijuana laws on the books.

“If there’s an opportunity for fewer people to end up in jail, for marijuana, I see that as good,” said Ron Rozak after voting at Central Lutheran Church.

He acknowledged that marijuana interferes with young people’s development and thinking but is not sure it’s a gateway to cocaine or other drugs. He would rather see enforcement money spent on preschools or job training.

“I’d rather err on the side of spending money in those stages of development and on other forms of training people, helping people, than the $70,000 per year or whatever it costs to keep people in prison.”

Gayle Boyer struggled with the marijuana decision. Though she doesn’t like laws that imprison people for smoking marijuana, she had too many unanswered questions from the aftermath of laws passed in Colorado and Washington.

“I think we need to let them be the guinea pigs, and let them figure it out a little bit more,” she said.

Willow Tebo and Scott Jenks voted yes.

“There are too many people that take up law enforcement’s valuable time. I’d rather they be chasing after violent criminals than bustin’ a grown man who’s smoking a doobie,” Tebo said.

“It’s pretty much legal here anyway,” Jenks said. “It’s just a waste of cop time and court time and it’s pretty much harmless, as far as I’m concerned.”

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