Senate merges criminalizing pot, meth restrictions

Panel: Combining the two is more efficient vehicle for governor's agenda

Posted: Thursday, January 19, 2006

Despite protests from Democrats, the Alaska Senate agreed Wednesday to merge the recriminalization of marijuana with restrictions on the sale of over-the-counter drugs used to make methamphetamine.

The Senate Finance Committee last week combined the two pieces of legislation, saying the result was a more efficient vehicle for the governor's must-pass bills.

The legislation would counter a 1975 state Supreme Court decision that allows residents to possess less than 4 ounces of pot in their homes. It would make possession of 4 ounces or more a felony, and possession of up to 4 ounces a misdemeanor.

The bill also regulates the sale of Sudafed, a common medication for colds that is also used in the home manufacture of methamphetamine.

The marijuana bill had extensive hearings in the Senate last session but a companion measure stalled in the House Judiciary Committee. By folding it into the meth bill, the Senate could send the omnibus measure directly to the House floor - bypassing committee hearings - for a concurrence vote.

Senate Minority Leader Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, said the result of combining the two measures is a mishmash of disparate issues that does not serve the public well.

The bill is up for final passage Thursday in the Senate.

Also Wednesday, the Alaska Senate approved without debate the House's changes to a bill by Sen. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, making seat belt violations a primary offense.

The bill, which gives police the ability to stop a vehicle if the driver is not wearing a seat belt, now goes to the governor for his signature.

The House added several provisions before passing the bill last week, including limiting the law to highways and ensuring an officer has probable cause to pull over a vehicle.

The Senate approved the changes 11-7.

The bills are House Bill 149 and Senate Bill 87.

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