Charlo Greene, a reporter at Alaska's KTVA, outed herself as a marijuana business owner and resigned on air Sunday night after doing a segment on marijuana legalization. "Fuck it. I quit," she declared, prompting a storm of media attention.
Greene wasn't just a disgruntled worker trying to embarrass her employer on live television. With Alaska poised to vote on full marijuana legalization in November and a recent poll showing a close race, the political climate surrounding pot in the state is quite tense.
Greene explained in an online message and to the Alaska Dispatch that the spectacular resignation was meant to bring attention to the issues with medical marijuana in the state: Although pot is technically legal for medicinal purposes in Alaska, it can't be legally sold through dispensaries, making it difficult for people with medical marijuana cards to obtain the drug.
Voters in Alaska approved the legalization of medical marijuana in 1998, allowing patients to obtain medical marijuana cards through their doctors if they have debilitating illnesses like HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, or cancer. But the ballot initiative didn't allow for the distribution of marijuana, and legislators haven't set up a framework that would allow medical marijuana dispensaries to open and legally sell the drug to patients.
How did that happen? Polling shows that, although a majority are in support, Americans are still somewhat divided on the topic of full legalization. But when it comes to medical marijuana, it's usually not close: An overwhelming majority of Americans are in support.
This means medical marijuana typically has a good shot of winning at the polls. But that doesn't always prompt support from lawmakers, who widely view anything related to legal pot as politically toxic. As a result, it's often the case that voters will usher in some form of legalization or decriminalization, but politicians won't follow with a regulatory and legal framework that upholds marijuana reforms.
In response, businesses like Greene's Alaska Cannabis Club work to connect medical marijuana cardholders so they can exchange their marijuana, which can be legally grown but not sold in Alaska, for "donations." Greene's club acknowledged to the Alaska Dispatch that this is a legal gray area, but it's one of the few ways cardholders can distribute pot and obtain the drug from others in the absence of dispensaries.
This situation isn't exclusive to Alaska. In Colorado, voters legalized medical marijuana in 2000. But it took a 2007 lawsuit for dispensaries to begin opening up widely across the state, and policymakers only began setting up a legal framework for the stores in 2009 and 2010. (Today, pot is fully legal for recreational use and sales in Colorado.)
Without a similar lawsuit, supporters of medical pot in Alaska hope the full legalization initiative, which will go on the ballot this November, will provide them the legal ground to establish dispensaries across the state. The initiative will allow the legal sales of marijuana, but it will also let local governments bar sales within their borders. Although these businesses are intended for recreational users, they could easily apply to medical users as well.
With her live stunt on Sunday, that's what Greene hoped to shine a light on — and it's one reason why Alaska's supporters of legalization see the ballot issue as much more than a bid for legal recreational use.
To learn more about marijuana legalization and the ballot initiatives surrounding it, read Vox's explainers on legal pot and the states that will vote on marijuana in 2014.