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House rejects marijuana-meth bill

Issue remains alive as it goes to conference committee on differences

Posted: Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Alaska House rejected on Wednesday a bill that aims to penalize marijuana use and curb home manufacturing of methamphetamines.

But the bill is far from dead.

Last week, the Senate passed what began as a bill that would make it harder for meth cookers to buy over-the-counter drugs that are necessary ingredients in producing the drug.

To move two other bills dealing with marijuana and steroid use faster through the legislative process, the Senate combined several bills into one. It has since been nicknamed the "meth-ijuana" bill.

Because the House approved House Bill 149 last session, the bill must go through a conference committee to settle the differences.

Several Republican lawmakers joined the Democrats in defeating the Senate's version 15-23. Some said their "nay" vote was in protest of the Senate combining the bills. The marijuana legislation was only heard in one House committee and did not advance further.

"This is a bicameral Legislature," said House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage. "We can't surrender the role we have just because it's easier."

Many representatives voted against the bill because it wasn't tough enough on meth. The House's original version called for pharmacists to keep log books that customers would need to sign when buying over-the-counter drugs containing pseudoephedrine, such as the cold medicine Sudafed.

Rep. Harry Crawford, D-Anchorage, said there was an outcry from policemen across the state when they heard the provision was removed by the Senate.

"Those lists are substantial tools in the deterrent effort, as well as the seizure of methamphetamine labs and prosecution of their operators," wrote Lt. Thomas Remaley, of the Palmer Police Department, in a letter sent to Crawford's office.

differences between the house and senate for house bill 149:

house version

• customers who purchase over-the-counter drugs containing sole active ingredient of meth must sign a log book and show a government-issued photo id.

senate version

• customers must show a government-issued photo id when purchasing over-the-counter drugs containing the sole active ingredient of meth. log books are not required.

• those under the age of 18 are not allowed to buy over-the-counter drugs containing the sole active ingredient of meth.

• includes findings that say marijuana is addictive and more potent than it was 30 years ago.

•any possession of marijuana is punishable by a misdemeanor or felony.

Other states passed laws requiring the record-keeping, Remaley added.

Juneau's House delegation was split on the vote.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, voted against the measure and said the provisions concerning marijuana need to be heard in House committees and the amendments made to the meth portion are bad for police and pharmacy customers.

"It's not because I want to see marijuana or meth being used," Kerttula said.

Also, as an attorney, Kerttula said she doubts the bill is strong enough to overturn a 31-year-old Alaska Supreme Court ruling that said state residents can possess up to 4 ounces of marijuana under a right to privacy granted in the Alaska Constitution.

Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, who voted in support of the bill, said legislation on meth is needed as soon as possible.

"My hope is to get some strong measures for meth on the books," he said.

The three members appointed to the House conference committee all said they will use the opportunity to reinsert the provision about log books.

Crawford said he doubts the conference committee will bust the bill into separate parts dealing with each drug, like several Democrat lawmakers are suggesting. The committee will likely have two Republicans and one Democrat from each chamber.

House Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole, said the committee would probably not change any language that deals with marijuana. The bill calls for making possession of marijuana up to 4 ounces a misdemeanor and above 4 ounces a felony.

If the bill is passed and signed into law, Assistant Attorney General Dean Guaneli said the Department of Law will use the bill to try to overturn the Supreme Court ruling. Guaneli said the department would make an arrest and use the case to challenge the court, hoping new findings in the bill will be used as evidence to overturn the historic ruling.

Coghill said the first conference committee meeting could be 10 to 15 days away.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com.



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