Marijuana: Alaska Governor's Effort to Recriminalize Marijuana Passes One More Hurdle 4/14/06

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Thanks to a series of Alaska appeals court and Supreme Court decisions dating to 1975, Alaska is the only state in the nion where it is legal to possess marijuana -- up to a quarter-pound in the privacy of one's home -- and that is driving Gov. Frank Murkowski (R) crazy. For the second year in a row, he has pushed legislation that would recriminalize marijuana possession, and this year he is coming close to succeeding.

While the effort appeared to hit a bump when Murkowski and his legislative allies tied the marijuana bill to an anti-methamphetamine bill, the joint bill made it out of a joint conference committee Wednesday and now heads back to the House and Senate floors for final approval.

The conference committee fended off efforts to amend the bill or separate it into two separate bills. "Whether they're high on meth or stoned on pot, it's the same to me," said Sen. Con Bunde (R-Anchorage).

The committee rejected an effort by Sen. Hollis French (D-Anchorage) to strip from the bill a long list of legislative "findings" that today's marijuana is much more potent that the pot of the 1960s and 1970s and could be addictive. In 1975, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that, given the relative harmlessness of marijuana, the state constitution's privacy provision protected people's right to possess the substance in their own homes. The findings are an effort to set the stage for a new challenge to that decision, which the Alaska courts upheld again in 2004 and 2005.

The committee also rejected an amendment by French to allow small amounts of marijuana for personal use at home. The bill would make possession of more than a quarter-pound a felony, between an ounce and a quarter-pound a serious misdemeanor, and under an ounce a misdemeanor.

If signed into law, the bill would be in direct conflict with the court decisions, setting up a legal challenge to the new law. Murkowski and his allies hope the court will be swayed by their "findings" and overturn its previous rulings.

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Issue #431 -- 4/14/06

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