The Tourist's Guide to Navigating Alaska's Legal Marijuana Market

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Summer is here, and that means tourists are descending on the state in search of mountain viewing, whale sightings and, sometimes, marijuana.

This summer marks the state’s first tourist season with marijuana shops up and running. For travelers heading to Alaska, here’s what to expect, do and avoid.

What you can do 

Anyone 21 years or older can buy and carry up to an ounce of marijuana. You can give and receive up to an ounce for free.

But the state still has some places where marijuana is not allowed — like national parks and some private property.

The lowdown on retail shops 

Marijuana stores have opened in many Alaska communities, from Fairbanks to Sitka.

Bring your ID, because Alaska law requires businesses to check it. Each shop is a little different, but marijuana will be behind the counter and a budtender will help you pick out what you want. You can smell and look at the product but not touch it.

Most shops have their current menus online – prices for grams tend to hover around $20. It’s cash only. Some stores have ATMs. Budtenders like tips.

The state doesn’t track customer information, but some shops are asking for names and other information for their in-house point of sale system.

Marijuana and driving 

No state laws say you have to transport marijuana in a certain way in your vehicle.

In Anchorage, you are supposed to carry marijuana in the trunk of your car. If your car has no trunk (like a hatchback), it needs to be behind the last row of seats. It’s supposed to be in a sealed container that hasn’t been opened, under Anchorage law.

If you get stoned and drive, you could get a DUI. Law enforcement goes by standard field sobriety tests to decide whether a person is considered impaired, both the Alaska State Troopers and Anchorage Police Department said.

Traveling by plane

Under federal law, pilots who knowingly carry marijuana on a flight risk losing their certification. Alaska Airlines is clear that marijuana is not allowed on board, in carry-on or checked luggage. A number of smaller airlines have a similar policy.

But for months, airport police have been letting small amounts of marijuana through security checkpoints in Anchorage and Fairbanks. (Transportation Security Administration employees call police, who then allow travelers to continue through the checkpoint with cannabis.)

The Juneau Police Department is taking a hands-off approach, leaving it up to the discretion of TSA. They won’t confiscate your marijuana, JPD Lt. David Campbell said, but TSA may require you to leave it behind.

So if you fly with marijuana, local police may not stop you but you’re still taking a risk.

Alaska ferry system and cruise ships

The U.S. Coast Guard is the law enforcement entity on federal waterways, including those traversed by Alaska’s ferries and cruise lines.

“It’s illegal federally and we try to inform the public of that,” said Brian Dykens, a spokesman for the Coast Guard in Alaska. “I can’t tell you what we would do or not do if we come across drugs.”

But the Alaska Marine Highway System, including popular Southeast ferry routes, isn’t actively seeking out people who are carrying marijuana, according to Shannon McCarthy, spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

Usually, if crew members discover someone with less than an ounce of marijuana, the person is told to put it away, McCarthy wrote. More than 1 ounce would be reported to law enforcement.

For Holland America cruises, ships comply with federal law and don’t allow marijuana on board, said Ralph Samuels, vice president of government and community relations at cruise ship operator Holland America Group.

Holland America notifies people of what’s not allowed on the ship after they book a cruise, Samuels said. And marijuana shops in Juneau are required to have signage telling customers they aren’t allowed to take the product onto a ship or plane.

When passengers board the cruise ship, much like at an airport, they go through a metal detector and their bags go through an X-ray machine.

“If somebody had a bag of pot, we’d take it from them,” Samuels said. “If it’s a pot cookie, I don’t know. The edibles, I just don’t know.”

Smoking in public

Public consumption isn’t allowed under Alaska law. You can be fined up to $100 if police bust you.

Like in other states, tourists face a conundrum: If you can’t smoke in public, but don’t have a home to return to, where can you legally smoke pot?

So far, there’s no good answer. The state has long discussed allowing public areas where marijuana consumption is legal, but development of those rules is still a ways out.

The public consumption fine is a citation – akin to a traffic ticket – and not a criminal charge. In Anchorage, six citations had been issued between January and the end of March, according to Anchorage police.

Hotels

Hotel rooms are considered private property and local rules in any given city would determine what’s allowed, said Erika McConnell, director of the state’s Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office.

Many hotels have no-smoking policies. At the Westmark Baranof hotel in Juneau, general manager Steve Hamilton said that smoking marijuana in the hotel rooms would be off-limits, just like tobacco. For edibles, Hamilton said he had no way of knowing when those are brought in, and “we don’t try to be the police.”

Your best bet is to ask your AirBnB host or a staff member at your hotel or other lodging.

National parks

Alaska is home to 54 million acres of federal parks and preserves. But carrying and using marijuana on these massive swaths of federal land is not allowed.

If you’re caught with marijuana you could face a federal citation, which is typically a misdemeanor, according to John Quinley, National Park Service spokesman. 

So far, those citations have been sparse. In the past 2 1/2 years, there have been two citations and one verbal warning to people for using marijuana, Quinley wrote. Two were in Denali National Park and Preserve and one was in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.

Medical marijuana

If you have a medical card, it won’t go far at most marijuana shops. Alaska was one of the first states to legalize medical marijuana in 1998 but its rules don’t allow for dispensaries. In 2014, when voters legalized recreational marijuana, a separate medical system was not developed, to the chagrin of some medical users. Regulators feared that if a dual system were created, medical prices and rules would undercut the regular commercial market.

So far, no state rules explicitly ban discounts to medical cardholders, but generally, shops aren’t offering these discounts. It’s seen as a legal gray area, partially because shops aren’t allowed to provide medical advice to customers. More clarification from the state will likely be needed on the issue.

Marijuana clubs and delivery services

A few marijuana delivery services operate in Alaska, but not with the state’s blessing. Alaska’s laws don’t allow for marijuana delivery, and two delivery services’ owners are facing criminal charges.

Rules around marijuana clubs are still being considered by the Marijuana Control Board. In Anchorage, one club owner faces criminal charges and a second shut down in April.

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Source: 420 Intel – United States

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