In 2014, Alaska voters legalized the commercial production, growth, and sales of marijuana by voter initiative.
Measure 2 went into effect five years ago this month. It allows adults 21 years or older to possess and use marijuana and associated cannabis projects. In 2016, the first first retail marijuana store opened in October 2016.
Marijuana is America’s most commonly used psychotropic drug after alcohol. So how is Alaska doing? Two years after legalization, the state conducted a survey, and 2017 numbers were recently released in a report.
According to the Department of Health and Social Serivces, 9,000 people under the age of 18 used marijuana during the previous 30 days, about 22 percent of all traditional high school students.
More Alaska students use marijuana than smoke cigarettes. The students using marijuana the most were 11th and 12th graders, and students in alternative and correctional schools. The pattern of usage among Alaska youth tracks with the national average.
Although that number may seem high, cannabis use among high schoolers peaked in the late 1970s, when more than one-third of seniors (37 percent in 1976) reported using pot in the past month.
Some 15.4 percent of Alaska adults used marijuana during the past 30 days. Among Alaska Natives, that number is 24 percent.
Smoking marijuana, as opposed to dabbing, eating, or vaping, was the favorite form of consumption among all Alaskans (96.3 percent), and especially among Alaska Natives (99.3 percent).
Ten percent of Alaska adults used marijuana on 20 or more occasions during the prior month, something considered “heavy use.” That equates to 54,000 Alaska adults being heavy users of marijuana, or over 7 percent of the entire population of the state (including all ages).
Between 2015 and 2017, the prevalence of marijuana usage among Alaska adults was higher than the national average.
Adult heavy use increased significantly between 2015 and 2017. The prevalence of marijuana use among Alaska adults was higher than the national average.
Nine percent of women who delivered a baby in Alaska in 2017 said they used marijuana at least once while they were pregnant. This translates to about 900 births in the year.
Among those mothers who breastfed their babies, marijuana use was lower than non-breastfeeding mothers. Still, one in ten breastfeeding mothers reported using marijuana at least once since delivery. About 6 percent of Alaska mothers of 3-year-old children said they had used marijuana in the past month.
According to the survey, fewer people believe that marijuana usages is harmful, compared to the national average. Only 19 percent of Alaska high school students believe there is a great risk from using marijuana once or twice a month, and only 3 percent of those using marijuana think it’s risky.
One in 10 high school students who drive had operated a vehicle while high in the past month, and 16 percent had driven while high at some point since getting their license.
As for medical uses of marijuana, the number of medical marijuana registry patient cardholders dropped dramatically, from more than 1,700 in 2014 and 2015 to only 404 in 2019. And yet, 1-in-10 users reported using marijuana for medical purposes in past 30 days.
Another population that showed high usage is the gay/lesbian/bisexual community, 28.9 percent of which uses marijuana, compared with 15 percent of the heterosexual population.
By October 2019, Alaska had licensed 102 retail stores to sell marijuana. Businesses are located throughout the state. State marijuana regulators have not set limits on the number of licenses by person or entity.
Marijuana products sold and with that, tax revenues have risen steadily. From January-October 2019 more than 17 tons of taxed marijuana products changed hands on the legal market, generating more than $17 million in state tax revenue.