Inside Mike Smith's marijuana grow room in Washington state, more than a dozen cannabis plants sit in rows, propped off the ground, closer to a large lamp hanging above.
"They like the air to move, they like it about 72 degrees," says Smith. "Nothing crazy here or anything, it's all simple."
Smith says he is hoping to get four ounces of marijuana from each plant, which he uses for medicinal purposes. His Granite Falls grow room is legal in Washington, but not in Alaska, where card-carrying medical marijuana users are allowed to possess one ounce and grow up to six plants as long as no more than three of the plants are flowering.
Though Smith lives in Washington, he has strong ties to the medical marijuana climate in Alaska -- his Anchorage business, The Healing Center Medical Clinic, has helped hundreds of Alaskans obtain a medical marijuana card since it opened in early 2012.
"There was a need. We had done some research and made calls and people really needed to see us. They were having a hard time finding a doctor up there that understood that medical marijuana does help," Smith said.
The monthly clinic gives pre-screened patients a chance to sit down with a physician who is able to provide a recommendation for medical cannabis, if that patient has a qualifying condition like chronic pain or cancer. Smith says most of his clients are men in their fifties and sixties.
"They're out there. There's people from all walks of life dong everything with medical marijuana cards," says Smith. "It's about patients. It's not about pushing drugs on people, it's about the choice to use a natural plant for their pain remedy, if they so choose."
Besides being a medical cannabis advocate, he is also in favor of decriminalizing marijuana in Alaska altogether. It is an issue one national group, is pushing for too. The Marijuana Policy Project is targeting Alaska as a 2014 ballot initiative to legalize recreational use of marijuana, on the heels of successful voter-driven legalization in Washington and Colorado.
"It came sort of from the bottom up. And I guess I would expect the same thing to happen here, if at all, to come from some initiative," said Sen. Hollis French (D-Anchorage).
Marijuana was re-criminalized under Alaska law in 2006, even though opponents argued the bill that did so was a violation of privacy rights guaranteed by Alaska's constitution.
"We've always been a little different because of that privacy clause, because of Alaskans sort of jealously guarding that right to privacy. But I think we're not a state that condones marijuana usage either. There's a tension between those two," says French.
Recently, there hasn't been a real push to repeal the 2006 law from any group in the state, but Smith hopes that changes.
"If it was on the ballot six months from now and people in the State of Alaska knew that they could legalize marijuana for their own personal use, I believe they would wholeheartedly," Smith said.
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