Omnibus drug bill headed to Senate floor

Posted: Friday, January 13, 2006

Two bills that aim to curb the production and use of marijuana and methamphetamine in Alaska have been folded into one.

The omnibus measure was moved out of the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday for possible Senate floor debate and a vote.

Finance co-Chairwoman Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, said merging the two bills would create a more efficient vehicle to move the measures through. She said both drugs are controlled substances that create headaches for law enforcement.

"We are looking at the final result of (ingesting) the product and what public safety officials and others are going through to curb that," she said.

Backed by Gov. Frank Murkowski, House Bill 149 would roll back a Supreme Court decision that makes it legal for Alaskans to possess up to 4 ounces of marijuana for personal use in their homes. It would make possession of 4 ounces or more a felony.

State officials say recriminalizing marijuana would help state troopers crack down on commercial growers by making it easier obtain search warrants. Critics counter, however, the penalties only target so-called recreational users and the bill does not enhance fines for those possessing a pound or more of marijuana.

Lawmakers also heard testimony from experts called by bill opponents to counter the state's claims about marijuana being more potent now than in mid-1970s, when the state's high court issued its ruling.

Dr. Mitchell Earlywine, a professor at New York State University, said marijuana is stronger than it used to be but not to the extent that has been reported. He said the methods for measuring the drug's potency were flawed in the 1970s. He estimates marijuana is about twice as strong as it was.

The bill says it is 14 times stronger.

Earlywine also challenged the state's contention that today's pot is more dangerous, but he agreed with the state that the drug should not be used by or around children.

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