They Won't Give Up -- Alaska Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument in State's Bid to Overturn Legal Marijuana At Home

For more than 30 years, Alaska's courts have held that the state constitution's privacy protections barred the state from criminalizing adults possessing and consuming small amounts of marijuana in the privacy of their homes. Although voters passed an initiative recriminalizing marijuana in 1991 and more than a decade passed before the courts found that measure unconstitutional, Alaska's courts have never wavered from the landmark 1975 decision in Ravin v. State that legalized home possession.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/murkowskiwalters.jpg
propaganda show by Gov. Murkowski and drug czar Walters
That has never set well with prohibitionists, as evidenced by the 1991 initiative. Two years ago, after the courts restated their adherence to Ravin, then-Gov. Frank Murkowski (R) tried again to undo the status quo. Then, he managed to push through the legislature a bill that would once again recriminalize marijuana possession, and he stacked it with a series of "legislative findings" based on one-sided science designed to make the case that the nature of marijuana had changed so dramatically since the 1970s that Alaska's courts should rethink their position.

But when that law took effect in June 2006, the ACLU of Alaska sued the state, and Juneau Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins struck it down that summer, saying it conflicted with the state supreme court's decision in Ravin. The state appealed, and last Thursday, the state Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case.

Former Assistant Attorney General Dean Guaneli came out of retirement to reprise his old role as lead man in the Alaska law enforcement establishment's effort to undo the Ravin decision. It's not your father's marijuana, he argued, saying that it is far more potent than before, that pregnant women in Alaska are more prone to using marijuana than elsewhere in the country, and that 10% of users become dependent on the drug. All of this, he argued, is sufficient for the state high court to revisit and reverse its decision in Ravin.

The ACLU, representing itself and two anonymous plaintiffs, however, argued that the court should not bow to politically motivated findings that were tailor-made for the case. The court "needs to look with extreme skepticism at the legislature's findings" before overturning decades of decisions protecting Alaskan's rights to privacy, said ACLU attorney Jason Brandeis during the hearing.

The court will not issue a decision on the case for six months to a year, but it was being watched with interest by observers across the country. Marijuana law reform proponents in particular are hoping that Alaska will continue to be in the vanguard.

"Alaska currently has the best marijuana laws in the country -- it's perfectly legal to possess small amounts in your home -- and it would be a terrible setback if this court were to reverse a decision in place for more than 30 years," said Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "But so far, the courts there have held it is unconstitutional to attach penalties to the private use of marijuana."

"This is a very important case that deals with some fundamental legal principles," said Jason Brandeis, who argued the case along with Adam Wolf of the national ACLU's Drug Law Reform Project. "First, there is the matter of stare decisis, respect for precedent. What we are asking the court to do is respect the precedent of Ravin and continue to rule that absent a really good reason, the state can't invade the sanctity of the home and preclude adults from engaging in certain types of conduct," he said.

"The state says it has new evidence that marijuana is dangerous, and that justifies the state piercing the sanctity of the home, but our position is simply that they don't have the scientific evidence to support that claim," said Brandeis. "The question is whether adults using marijuana at home rises to a level of social harm that justifies abrogating their privacy rights. We don't think so."

While the Alaska ruling will be important as an example to the rest of the country, said Stroup, it will also have a practical impact. "One reason this case is so important is that so long as it is legal to have small amounts at home, even if the police smell marijuana, that's not probable cause for arrest or a search warrant," he pointed out. "That's important."

For Ravin to be overturned, said Brandeis, the court would have to find a "close and substantial" relationship between preventing an adult from smoking marijuana at home and the state's interest in protecting the public health and safety. A ruling like that would be "a big step backwards," he said. "It would be a big blow to our privacy rights, and we take our privacy very seriously up here."

Brandeis refused to predict the outcome of the case, but sounded confident. "It's pretty clear the court knows what the issues are," he said. "There were a lot of questions about what level of deference the court should give the legislative findings, and I think we presented strong arguments that the court should not defer in this situation."

Stroup was not quite as cautious. Despite what he described as Gov. Murkowski's "reefer madness" and the legislative findings it inspired, Stroup pronounced himself confident that Ravin will be upheld. "I don't think we'll lose this," he said. "I have no reason to believe the Alaska Supreme Court will do anything differently than it did in Ravin."

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Democracy

The system of espionage being thus established, the country will swarm with informers, spies, delators, and all the odious reptile tribe that breed in the sunshine of despotic power. The hours of the most unsuspected confidence, the intimacies of friendship, or the recesses of demestic retirement will afford no security. The companion whom you trust, the friend in whom you must confide, are tempted to betray your imprudence, to misrepresent your words, to convey them distorted by calumny, to the secret tribunal where suspicion is the only evidence heard.
U.S. Representative Edward Livingston
From the annals of the 5th U.S. Congress
1798

Home Privacy

If the governor is so anxious to treat his state's citizens as little children or mentally-challenged individuals, why does he not seek to bar the use of alcohol in the home? Alcohol is more addictive than marijuana and has caused thousands more deaths than marijuana.

Does Dean Guaneli have any evidence weed can harm a fetus?

The dear boy is confusing fetal ALCOHOL syndrome with a non-existent fetal cannabis syndrome. Incredible what these blatantly hypocritical jokers have been getting away with. Go have another drink of your favorite drug, buster.

Pot is more potent now.

Maybe. But hash has been around for a long, long time.

Pot is not more potant now

There is however, more potent weed available. I have yet to see more potent weed than red-bud Colombian, or Budda Thai from the 70's and 80's. I wish they made that point in Alaska, and demanded that Guaneli show proof!

Dean Guaneli - the Corrupt Bastard Club's favorite Award

Dean Guanelli won State Prosecutor of the year in 2005.

A man named Ray Metcalfe had been trying to get a criminal investigation of the relationsip of a company called VECO and their [corrupt] relationship bribing legislators for BIG OIL and a tax structure that maximized their profits. VECO

Dean was busy busting peole with a reefer and writing letters poo-pooing serious crimes done by corrupt state senators who would help VECO and Bill Allen bilk Alaska for billions

While he was busy with his letters in April of 2006 the FBI was actually investigating and tape recording the bribes going on. Some prosecutor of the year the Corrupt Bastard Club had. He must have won the award based on the crimes he wasn't proscuting.

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