Updated on April 24, 2018. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Alaska was one of the first states to approve of medical marijuana and has a curious history with the plant, dating back to 1975. In 1998, 58% of voters passed Ballot Measure 8, which removed criminal penalties for the possession, use and cultivation of cannabis, by patients with a doctor’s recommendation. One of the more interesting Alaska medical marijuana facts is that the original ballot measure initially placed no limits on how much marijuana a person could grow or possess- but it was almost immediately “corrected” by a senate bill. This version limited the amount of marijuana allowed, to just one ounce of usable material and 6 plants. This adjustment also created a state registry and declared registration mandatory.
Applicable medical conditions include cancer, chronic pain, cachexia, epilepsy, seizures, muscle spasms, glaucoma, severe nausea and HIV/AIDS, and more.
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services is in charge of issuing medical marijuana cards to qualifying applicants.
However, in 2015 Alaska voters approved the recreational use of cannabis. There are some strict limitations. People are not allowed to possess more than an ounce of weed, and they can’t harvest any more than four ounces at one time if they are growing it at home. In addition, they cannot consume pot in public.
Statistical data and marijuana facts for Alaska are scarce, and despite the medical cannabis program having existed for well over a decade, there were reportedly only 379 patients in the state registry as of 2011.
Finding a doctor willing to recommend medical cannabis in Alaska is said to be extremely hard without an intermediary. Although such doctors obviously exist, the president of the Alaska State Medical Association once stated that she doesn’t know of any physician who recommends cannabis to patients.
The program is so low key that its official information is contained in a single small page on the health department’s website.
Alaska patients are allowed to have a primary and a secondary caregiver, grow and hold marijuana for them.
There is no publicly available data on registration patterns, number of caregivers, ages or gender of patients or their geographical concentrations.
The state’s Marijuana Control Board ruled in February 2017 that people could not purchase marijuana in an authorized store and then go into a separate area of the store to partake. However, there was some confusion as to whether or not retail stores that had weed consumption operation plans previously approved by the board would be able to allow onsite use.
In a landmark 1975 case, the Alaska Supreme court overturned the criminalization of at-home possession of small amount of marijuana as this violated a unique feature of the state’s Constitution: an explicit right to privacy. Because of this ruling, and despite several subsequent (only partially successful) attempts by the legislature to re-criminalize such possession, the general attitude towards marijuana in Alaska is rather relaxed and a low priority for law enforcement.
There is anecdotal data that suggests that the extremely low number of registered patients is related to the murky status of marijuana possession and the general attitude towards it. Some patients may thus choose to remain unregistered and anonymous and use marijuana illegally since the chances of getting in trouble are lower than in many other states. However, unregistered patients are still at significant risk as they, regardless of medical necessity evidence, are barred from using an affirmative defense in court should a possession, use or cultivation charge be brought against them.