* Republican-leaning state third to allow recreational use
* Campaign appealed to Alaska's libertarian streak
* Public smoking, buying and selling still banned
(Adds Maryland holds hearing on legal marijuana)
By Steve Quinn
JUNEAU, Alaska, Feb 24 Smoking, growing and
owning small amounts of marijuana became legal in Alaska on
Tuesday as a growing decriminalization movement reached the
United States' northwest frontier.
Alaska, which narrowly passed the measure in November,
followed Colorado and Washington among states allowing
recreational use, reflecting a rapidly shifting legal landscape
for the drug.
It remains illegal, however, under federal law.
In the District of Columbia, Mayor Muriel Bowser said on
Tuesday the U.S. capital would go ahead with legalized
possession of small amounts of marijuana and pot plants despite
opposition from Congress. Voters overwhelmingly approved
legalizing pot last year, but its sale is still banned.
Oregon voters approved a similar measure in November, but
the drug does not become legal until July. In Maryland, the
state legislature began hearings on Tuesday on a measure to
In Alaska, anyone aged 21 or older can possess up to an
ounce (28.3 grams) of marijuana and can grow up to six plants,
three of which can be flowering.
Smoking in public and buying and selling the drug remains
illegal, but private exchanges are allowed if money is not
President Barack Obama's Department of Justice has allowed
the experiments to proceed, saying it would look to prosecute a
narrower range of marijuana-related crimes, such as sales to
But that could change if a more conservative president is
elected in 2016, when Alaska's first marijuana shops are likely
Supporters of the measure say it reflects a sense of
personal freedom that resonates with residents of Alaska, a
state with a libertarian streak. They also say legal sales will
generate income and jobs.
"Alaska now has some of the most sensible marijuana laws in
the nation," Dr. Tim Hinterberger, chairman of the Campaign to
Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said in a statement.
The state's alcohol regulatory board, which is set to meet
on Tuesday, and other officials must still fill gaps in the
legislation, such as a definition of the public places where
people cannot light up.
State regulators are drafting rules covering the taxation
and sale of marijuana and which must be adopted by Nov. 24.
Applications for the first business licenses will not be
accepted until February 2016.
Police have released regular updates on how they will
enforce the law.
(Additional reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by
Curtis Skinner, G Crosse, and Lisa Von Ahn)