A little over two months after Alaska's medical marijuana initiative, Proposition 8, went into effect, the Alaska House and Senate have passed legislation that would restrict its implementation. The bill, S.B. 94, passed the Senate on May 13 and was approved with amendments by the House on May 17. The Senate passed the amended version of the bill the next day, and now awaits final approval by the governor.
Under S.B. 94, patients who want to use marijuana will be required to register with the state, and will be allowed to possess a maximum of one ounce of marijuana or six plants for their personal use. Sale or distribution between patients will be prohibited.
Supporters of Prop 8. said they were disappointed with the restrictions, but noted that it could have been much worse. The original bill, as introduced by state Senator Loren Leman, would have given police broad access to the patients' registry, and another provision would have forced doctors to testify that their patients had exhausted every "legal" treatment before trying marijuana. Further, only specific conditions such as AIDS, cancer, and glaucoma would have qualified as a "debilitating medical condition" that justified marijuana use.
"The burden that would have been placed on doctors would have made the law unworkable," said Gina Pesulima, spokeswoman for Americans for Medical Rights.
Pesulima credited patients and voters who supported Prop. 8, many of whom testified before the legislature in debates on S.B. 94, with making sure the most onerous restrictions did not get through. "Overall, we're not happy that it passed, but we are happy that in the process, a lot of patients came out in support of the law & giving it a chance to work."
Another positive result of the amendment process, she said, is a provision that will allow physicians' assistants and nurse practitioners to make official recommendations for patients who need marijuana. This is particularly helpful in Alaska, where many patients live in remote areas with limited access to doctors.
Alaskans for Medical Rights, which sponsored Prop. 8, is on the web at http://www.alaskalife.net/AKMR/.