Lawmakers try to toughen pot laws

Posted: Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Lawmakers for the second year are trying to toughen Alaska's marijuana laws, but critics say state government should leave the little guy alone and go after commercial growers.

Alaska laws regarding marijuana use are among the loosest in the country. A 1975 Alaska Supreme Court decision made it legal for Alaskans to possess up to 4 ounces of marijuana for personal use in their homes.

Backed by Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski, the bill to recriminalize personal use of the drug stalled last year but was heard again Tuesday.

The proposed bill would stiffen penalties for marijuana users. It would make possession of 4 ounces of pot or more a felony. Possession of less than 4 ounces would be a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail.

Chief Assistant Attorney General Dean Guaneli testified that marijuana is more potent, and therefore more dangerous, now than three decades ago when the state Supreme Court ruled.

"This bill reflects what is currently known about marijuana," he said, "A lot has changed in the last 30 years."

Michael Macleod-Ball, executive director of the Alaska Civil Liberties Union, said the bill fails to get at the root of the problem.

"In fact there is no increase (in the bill) in penalties for those with more than a pound available," he said, "Those are the commercial growers and those are the ones you should be looking at."

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