Pubdate: Wed, 01 Jun 2005
Source: Anchorage Daily News (AK)
Copyright: 2005 The Anchorage Daily News
Author: Timothy Inklebarger
Cited: American Civil Liberties Union ( )
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Ballot Initiatives)
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


Governor Hopes To Raise Penalties For Use And Possession.

JUNEAU -- Possession of small amounts of marijuana at home for
personal use will soon be challenged by the state, based on a body of
information being compiled by the Legislature.

A proposal by Gov. Frank Murkowski seeks to increase the penalties for
marijuana use and possession. It also opens a forum for lawmakers to
hear "expert testimony on the effects of marijuana and to make
findings that the courts can rely on in cases where marijuana is an
issue," according to the governor.

Murkowski proposed companion anti-marijuana bills in the House and
Senate this year, but neither made it to their respective bodies for a
vote. This year was the first of the Legislature's two-year session,
so bills stay alive through the end of 2006.

The Alaska Supreme Court made possession of up to four ounces of
marijuana for use at home by adults legal in 1975 in the landmark
Ravin vs. state of Alaska decision. The ruling said the state must
show a substantial relationship between private use of marijuana and
the public welfare.

"It appears there is no firm evidence that marijuana, as presently
used in this country, is generally a danger to the user or to others,"
according to court records. "But neither is there conclusive evidence
to the effect that it is harmless."

Chief assistant attorney general Dean Guaneli said times have changed.
Marijuana is more potent now than in the 1970s and used increasingly
by youths, he said. The state plans to use information presented in
committee when it challenges another marijuana possession case.

"We believe the courts are going to give that (information) great
weight when another case comes before them that challenges the state's
marijuana laws," he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska says there is not enough
of a compelling state interest to take away an individual's privacy

ACLU of Alaska executive director Michael Macleod-Ball said the
argument that marijuana is more potent or that it is being used more
by children is not enough of a public danger to make home use illegal.

"From a policy perspective, we believe that criminalizing drug
possession and use does not solve the problems that are associated
with drug use in our society," he said.

Guaneli said the state could challenge a decision from an appeals
court issued last August that upheld a lower court decision saying
state troopers illegally searched a marijuana growing operation in
Anchor Point, about 15 miles northwest of Homer.

A Superior Court dismissed the evidence and charges against Leo
Richardson Crocker Jr. because the state must have probable cause to
believe there is more than four ounces -- the current legal limit --
in the home.

"The warrant application must provide an affirmative reason to
conclude that the possession is illegal or that the marijuana
otherwise constitutes evidence of a crime," the appeals court said.

Guaneli said the state could wait for the bills to pass next year to
use the official legislative record or could use testimony that
already has been presented to the Legislature.

"We certainly would like the Legislature's stamp of approval on this,"
Guaneli said. "It makes our case in court stronger."

Murkowski's Senate Bill 74 still awaits approval by the Senate Finance
Committee, the last stop before heading to the full Senate for a vote.
And House Bill 96 still awaits approval from the House Judiciary and
Finance committees before receiving a final vote by the House.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin