How did a red state like Alaska legalize marijuana?

In 2014, the year that Alaska voters legalized recreational marijuana, I was a legislative staffer in the Alaska State House. I took a leave of absence later that year to manage the reelection campaign for a relatively conservative Republican in Anchorage. That year’s ballot also included Measure 2, legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.

The House district that we were running in ended up voting for pot by a significant margin and my conservative boss was vocal in support of legalization. The head of the House democratic caucus, on the other hand, was opposed.

Alaska’s a weird place.

During the campaign I spoke to countless voters. Conservatives, independents, democrats, and indifferents. I was pretty damn sure that we’d win the campaign (and we did!) but I wasn’t sold on the success of legalization. I voted for it, kind of grudgingly because it was horribly written and I knew that we’d have a lot of work to do in the legislature to make it legally legible and actually create a viable marijuana industry. (Not to brag but I was right as it took two years before we had pot shops open for business.)

Legalization has a long and complicated history in Alaska. The Alaska state constitution actually has an enumerated right to privacy, near and dear to the heart of every Lonestar State loner and Massachusetts misanthrope that decided to make the Last Frontier their home. In 1975, the Alaska Supreme Court decided that the right to privacy enshrined the right of Alaskans to possess marijuana in limited circumstances so from one perspective we didn’t have that far to go.

Of course, Alaska also passed a medical marijuana law 25 years ago that the then-conservative legislature stymied, blocked, and prevented from ever coming into fruition. So from another perspective, we had a long way to go.

Alaska has had a conservative led legislature for most of the last thirty years. We’ve got a number of liberal bastions throughout the states, stalwart districts of progressive democrats. But our democrats are gun-toting, moose-hunting Alaskans. As I said above, the House democratic minority leader was opposed to legalization.

While canvassing the district for the campaign I remember one guy in particular. He was most definitely a pot smoker and was adamantly against the legalization measure. “Why the hell would I pay stupid high taxes on something I’ve been buying for no problem for my whole life?” Remember how I said it was badly written?

The final count was 52 to 46. A solid margin but not a landslide. It was anybody’s game and, well, Alaska’s a weird place.

Originally published at on December 10, 2018.

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