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Coast Guard says weed won't float; Agency will regulate federal laws on navigable waters

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JUNEAU, Alaska — There's plenty of uncertainty about the legalization of marijuana in Alaska.

One of the few sure bets: It won't be allowed on the Alaska Marine Highway.

Thanks to a conflict with federal law, if Alaskans approve the legalization of marijuana on Tuesday, every nugget, leaf and product sold off Alaska's road system will have to be produced locally — unless the vendor is willing to break the law.

Thank the U.S. Coast Guard.

"We are going to continue to enforce federal laws in all navigable waters of the U.S.," explained Chief Petty Officer Kip Wadlow, spokesman for the Coast Guard in Alaska.

"Navigable waters" include any inlet, bay, channel, canal — and yes, rivers are included — deep enough to run a boat. "Wherever Coast Guard personnel are, we will be enforcing those laws," Wadlow said.

If the Coast Guard catches a boat carrying marijuana, "we can take (that person) into custody, and we can seize the drugs as well," Wadlow said. "Depending on the amount, we'll work with our local law enforcement partners to process that person."

The same holds true in the air: Because air travel is federally regulated, Bush planes can't legally carry marijuana.

Unlike Coast Guard districts farther south, the Coast Guard in Alaska has not emphasized counter-narcotics operations. Since 2011, according to statistics supplied by Wadlow, the Coast Guard has had only nine drug-related boardings in Alaska. During the same period, the Coast Guard conducted more than 2,000 fisheries-related boardings in Alaska.

Wadlow was unable to say how many of the drug-related boardings were searches based on tips, or if they were incidents in which drugs were found during an unrelated search.

Jeremy Woodrow, spokesman for the Alaska Marine Highway, said the ferry system was unable to state its policy on marijuana due to an edict by Gov. Sean Parnell. That edict, issued earlier this year, bars state agencies from planning or studying the implementation of Ballot Measure 2 until after Election Day.

"Should the initiative pass, this will become a complex issue involving state and federal agencies both from an employer/employee and the State agency/passenger perspectives," Woodrow wrote in an email.

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