By Steve Quinn
JUNEAU, Alaska (Reuters) - Former U.S. Democratic Senator Mike Gravel, who represented Alaska in the 1970s, said on Wednesday he would head a Nevada company that develops and markets cannabis throat lozenges and other products in states that have taken steps to legalize weed.
Gravel, 84, will run KUSH, a subsidiary of publicly traded Cannabis Sativa Inc, where Gravel previously served nine months on the board of directors, the company said in a statement.
"We need to decriminalize drugs and treat them as a health problem," Gravel, who lives in California, told Reuters. "You should go see a doctor on the subject, not a sheriff, a police officer or a warden."
Gravel's appointment comes two months after Alaska and Oregon voted to legalize marijuana use for recreational purposes in ballot initiatives that would usher in a network of retail shops, similar to those operating in Washington state and Colorado.
Despite marijuana being considered illegal by the federal government, Gravel joins investors showing increased eagerness to venture into budding state-by-state cannabis markets. Former New Mexico Republican Governor Gary Johnson is the chief executive of Cannabis Sativa.
Alaska's new law takes effect in late February, putting the state on a nine-month clock to establish regulations governing the taxation and sale of marijuana. Applications for the first business licenses would not be accepted until February 2016.
Gravel said the company would form partnerships with producers to manufacture and sell its products, including a lozenge called "Kubby," in states that have sanctioned recreational cannabis, as well as the nearly two dozen states that allow its medicinal use.
Gravel served in the Senate from 1969 to 1981. In 2008, he first sought the Democratic presidential nomination and then joined the race to become the Libertarian Party nominee.
(Reporting by Steve Quinn; Editing by Eric M. Johnson and Peter Cooney)