moves to change pot law
January 22, 2005)
A bill to outlaw small amounts for personal use is before the Legislature.
By SEAN COCKERHAM
Anchorage Daily News
JUNEAU -- Gov. Frank Murkowski on Friday asked the Legislature to overrule
a court ruling that adult Alaskans have the right to possess marijuana
for personal use in their homes.
introduced a bill that challenges the state court's ruling and
that would significantly tighten other state marijuana laws --
making a lot more pot crimes into felonies. "The
Legislature finds that marijuana poses a threat to the public
health that justifies prohibiting its use in this state, even
by adults in private," the bill declares. Everyone expects the
fight to go back to the courts if the Legislature passes the
bill. The ruling that made at-home pot possession of up to four
ounces legal for personal use was based on the right to privacy
in the state constitution. The Legislature cannot change the
constitution without a statewide vote. But the governor hopes
the bill and hearings over it will show the courts that pot is
a lot more powerful than it used to be and that the state has
an overriding interest in forbidding it. William Satterberg,
the Fairbanks lawyer who argued the case that toppled the state
prohibition on at-home pot, said he doesn't think the courts
will backtrack. "Unconstitutional
still remains unconstitutional no matter what the Legislature
thinks," Satterberg said. The Alaska Supreme Court in September
let stand a lower court ruling last year that adult Alaskans
have the right to possess up to four ounces of marijuana in their
homes for personal use. The lower court based its opinion on
a 1975 decision, known as Ravin v. State, which declared the
strong right to privacy from government interference that is
guaranteed under the Alaska Constitution outweighed any social
harm that might be caused by the small at-home use of marijuana
by adults. Ravin remained the law in Alaska until 1990, when
voters passed an initiative outlawing all amounts of marijuana.
But last year's court ruling said a constitutionally protected
right -- in this case at-home pot -- cannot be taken away by
an initiative. Murkowski argues that marijuana is a lot stronger
and more harmful nowadays than in 1975 when the courts said the
right to privacy outweighed the social harm. The governor said
the bill he introduced Friday will help the state make it clear
to the courts that this is the case. "The
bill would provide a forum for the Legislature to hear expert
testimony on the effects of marijuana and to make findings that
the courts can rely on," the governor said in a letter to lawmakers.
Rep. Norm Rokeberg, R-Anchorage and a member of the House leadership,
said the court overruled the will of the Legislature and Alaska
voters when it declared some at-home use of marijuana to be legal.
He said he expects the Legislature will be interested in taking
a good look at Murkowski's bill. The bill would also make possession
of more than four ounces of pot a felony. The felony cutoff under
current law is a pound. The bill would also make it a felony
to give or sell any marijuana to anyone under the age of 21.
The Alaska public defender's agency said it would need another
$160,000 a year in state funds to meet its increased workload
under the bill.
handle 500 misdemeanor drug cases, primarily involving marijuana," the
agency said in a written statement. "At least half of these would
become felonies. Felonies take more work than misdemeanors."