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Medical patient’s pot predicament raises questions about legalization

By Shannon Ballard 7:32 PM January 1, 2014

Recreational marijuana: Is Alaska next to legalize?

ANCHORAGE – Sixty-year-old Julie is a cancer patient.

She is terrified. Not of an uncertain future, but just to show her face.

“I have a lot riding on this,” she said. “I could get cut off for medical or whatever.”

Julie uses cannabis every day to help manage the excruciating pain in her lungs.

“I can feel the difference each day, I have more energy,” she said.

Julie is one of hundreds of Alaskans with a medical marijuana card, but who have no place to legally buy the drug.

There are no dispensaries in Alaska. And given only months to live, she says she doesn’t have time to grow her own plants.

This predicament is forcing Julie and other medical marijuana users to get it elsewhere, such as Outside or illicit markets.

And it’s expensive — up to $400 an ounce, according to Anchorage police.

“I’m in debt. I don’t care,” she said. “I need to do what I need to do, and if the government, if they were to get cancer, I think they’d step on the bandwagon.”

A group of concerned Alaskans is trying to help people like Julie come out from the shadows and get marijuana legally.

Bill Porter is one of three sponsors behind the latest initiative to treat pot the same as alcohol, reducing the cost of marijuana for cancer patients and recreational users.

“Washington is pretty close to here and we’re all paying close attention,” Porter said. “I think we have a model and I think it will be easier to execute once we’ve passed it then it would have been if we were the first state.”

The Marijuana Policy Project has dished out thousands of dollars to fund efforts to get the initiative on the primary ballot next August. But to make that happen they need signatures.

Across the state are paid petitioners like Harley Brown.

“I like to see things on the ballot,” Brown said. “I do believe in ballot access. We have a right to say no or yes to whatever goes on the ballot. You’re not saying you agree with anything that’s on here. You’re just saying put it on the ballot so I can vote for it.”

In a six-hour day, Brown says he collects around a hundred signatures.

To get recreational marijuana on the ballot, backers will need at least 30,00 signatures. A goal they’ve met, but they’re not stopping.

“We’re tying to gather 45,000 signatures to make sure there are 30,000 good ones,” Porter said.

Addiction counselor Kurtis Walton says while he supports medical marijuana, when it comes to recreational use, he won’t vote to legalize it.

“There’s already enough traffic problems, deaths and injuries up here because of just alcohol alone. Do we need to add another element to our public safety?” Walton asks.

Julie obviously disagrees. She was paying hundreds of dollars each week just for small amounts of hemp oil to treat her pain. It was costing her too much and she had to stop.

The price of marijuana in Alaska is inflated with risk. In Colorado and Washington where distribution is legal, the medical marijuana would cost a fraction of what Julie pays.

Julie wants the initiative passed, making recreational use legal and the medical marijuana products she relies on more accessible and more affordable.

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