Alaskans say ‘yes’ at the polls; all three ballot measures pass

Legalized marijuana, a raise in the minimum wage and protection of Bristol Bay fisheries all appear to have won in unofficial results for the three ballot measures in Tuesday’s election.

Yes votes for Ballot Measure 3, raising the minimum wage to $8.75 an hour on Jan. 1, 2015, and Ballot Measure 4, providing for protection of Bristol Bay wild salmon, both had nearly 2-to-1 leads over the no votes. With all precincts counted, Measure 3 had 69 percent for yes to 31 percent for no. For Measure 4, yes had 65 percent to 35 percent for no.

In Ballot Measure 2, an act to tax and regulate the production, sale and use of marijuana, the margin was tighter, with 52 percent for yes and 48 percent for no.

On the lower Kenai Peninsula, House District 31 precinct totals were similar. Ballot Measure 2 passed 54 percent to 46 percent, Ballot Measure 3 passed 68 percent to 32 percent and Ballot Measure 4 passed 70 percent to.

For Ballot Measure 2, only Anchor Point and Funny River opposed marijuana legalization while other traditionally conservative districts like Ninilchik and Kasilof supported the measure.

“I think it’s a referendum for salmon, it’s a reflection that Alaskans uniformly protect pro-salmon,” Bob Shavelson, head of Cook Inletkeeper, said of Ballot Measure 4. “There’s lots of discussion about jobs that support a sustainable fishing economy over mining jobs. Alaskans clearly came out in support of sustainable fishing jobs.”

Measure 4 would require the legislature to approve future large-scale metallic sulfide mines in the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve and the bill would have to find that any proposed mine would not endanger that fishery.

Ballot Measure 2 would make it legal for adults 21 and older to produce, sell and use marijuana, and set a $50 per ounce excise tax on the sale or transfer of marijuana. Ever since the groundbreaking 1972 Alaska Supreme Court decision, Ravin v. Alaska, in which the late Homer lawyer Irwin Ravin asserted Alaska’s constitutional right of privacy allowed adults to use pot, marijuana use has been decriminalized.

“I have high hopes for Alaska to end marijuana prohibition for the benefit of everyone, for our tax base, to keep people out of jail, rational adults who want to make their own decisions and don’t want to deal with the ramifications of marijuana being illegal,” said Ballot Measure 2 supporter Beth Carroll. “The tax boon could be substantial.”

While Homer Police Chief Mark Robl opposed legalization, he said he wasn’t surprised by the outcome. The Alaska Association of Police Chiefs had opposed Ballot Measure 2.

“In a way, it’s kind of ironic. It’s probably going to cost us more money than the way the law was structured in the past,” Robl said.

Robl said he expects to see an increase in driving under the influence arrests where drivers are impaired solely by marijuana. In the Homer area, such cases have been rare, although it’s not uncommon for drivers to be charged with alcohol impairment who also possess marijuana. The Ravin decision allows possession of up to 4 ounces of marijuana in the home, but drivers in possession can be charged with sixth-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance, usually a $150 fine.

To identify marijuana impaired drivers, Homer Police officers will need to get drug recognition expert, or DRE, training, Robl said. Two officers already have DRE training. Robl estimated the coast per officer will be about $4,000, not including overtime costs to cover the officer’s shift while in training. Some of that training cost can come with assistance from the Alaska Police Standards Council. People convicted of crimes typically pay a $50 or higher fee to the Police Training Fund as part of their judgment.

Other than training costs and changes in DUI enforcement, Robl said he doesn’t expect to see many other impacts from marijuana legalization.

“Marijuana use in Alaska has been around for a long, long time already,” he said.

Carroll said she thinks that’s part of why legalization passed.

“We live in a state of conservative pot smokers and liberal gun fanatics. It’s very true,” she said. “There are very conservative people in this state who choose to use marijuana but are not open about it because of the existing laws and the fear the existing laws create.”

On Ballot Measure 3, to raise the minimum wage, Scott Ulmer, owner of Ulmer’s Drug and Hardware, one of Homer’s larger small businesses, said the law would have no effect on his business. Ulmer said he personally voted to support raising the minimum wage.

“My starting wage exceeds minimum wage by quite a bit,” Ulmer said. “I speak with my pocketbook and I support a higher standard of living that can be had with the minimum wage. I’m an advocate for raising that to a more realistic level.”

Dena Cunningham, co-owner with her husband Scott Cunningham of the Homer McDonald’s Restaurant, said she had no comment on Ballot Measure 3. She refers to McDonald’s minimum wage as a “starting point wage.” 

“We think of it as a more accurate description,” she said.

Currently, that starting point wage is $9 an hour, above the current Alaska minimum wage of $7.75 an hour and the new minimum wage of $8.75 an hour on Jan. 1. 

Carroll said on social media she saw many people saying the ballot measures were what brought them out to vote and that they might not have voted in the first place.

In the Bristol Bay ballot measure, Shavelson said he wasn’t surprised by the wide margin of the apparent win. Shavelson said Alaskans have recognized the importance of the Bristol Bay salmon fishery.

“Clearly we have a world class resource and Alaskans recognized that tonight,” he said.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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