In 2014 Alaska legalized marijuana for recreational purposes and authorized it to be regulated like alcohol. As part of the initiative, some of the tax money generated by marijuana sales is to be used for after-school programs.

Director of the Alaska Afterschool Network Thomas Azzarella says after-school programs are vital to students. Not only do kids learn things, interact with other kids and don't have to come home to an empty house, they get access to more positive adult role models.

"When they have an adult outside of their immediate family that they can turn to when things are challenging or when something might be going on in their personal lives, we know that a young person’s more likely to reach out and stay connected," Azzarella said.

The Department of Health and Social Services makes sure the money goes to the right places through the Positive Youth Development Afterschool Program. 

According to Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, and Azzarella, the state provided roughly 12% of the money generated by marijuana sales tax revenue in 2018 in the form of grants for after-school programs. 

"There was $1.25 million given out in grant funding, but we actually had $2.9 million in requests come in," Azzarella said. 

For every program that received funding, there were two waiting for funding. 

There are seven grantees working in more than 40 Alaska communities, Azzarella said.

The program uses an evidence-based curriculum designed to support healthy lifestyles; it focuses on fifth- through eighth-grade students.

"Really looking at that as a time that our young people are most at-risk for starting to develop habits of substance use," Azzarella said. "And so it's about how can we engage those middle school-age youth in positive opportunities to keep them on track and in healthy conditions."

The money is used to begin after-school programs where they might not exist and also to expand existing programs

"You might have an existing program that’s working well, but you can only serve 30 kids,” Claman said. “The additional money gets them up to 45 kids.”

Claman said he expects the grants to pump out more money in the future, beyond the $1.25 million given out this year. 

“It will increase. It's based on a formula in terms of the revenue that is received, and so I would expect in future years there’ll be some additional revenue."

For an interactive map of the programs and communities, go to akafterschool.org.  

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