Empire Editorial: Drop the pot provisions in 'methi-juana' bill

Posted: Sunday, February 05, 2006

I n 1975 the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that the state's constitution affords its residents a right to privacy protecting them from prosecution for possessing small amounts of marijuana in the home. To this day that interpretation stands as the law of the land, with privacy implications extending well beyond the drug war.

In 2006, Alaska is trying to get ahead of a health and safety scourge - methamphetamine manufacturing and sales - that has ravaged parts of the Lower 48 and increasingly threatens Alaskans.

What do the two have in common? Nothing, which is why lawmakers now reviewing a proposal to crack down on both methamphetamine cookers and marijuana possessors should rip the bill in two.

On Wednesday the Alaska House rejected a combined drug-enforcement measure approved by the Senate, and some representatives objected to proponents bypassing their chamber's vetting procedures by lumping the drugs together. Some also objected to removal of a log-book requirement that would allow police to track people who buy meth's core ingredients over the counter from pharmacists.

The bill approved by the Senate also would criminalize home possession of 4 ounces of marijuana, the legislated amount previously considered small enough to be covered by the court precedent.

The Senate legislation now faces conference negotiations with the House, in which it should be split up and the marijuana provisions dropped from further consideration. Where in-home possession of marijuana is essentially a personal decision, right or wrong, methamphetamine manufacture and use present both environmental and public safety dangers. Meth users pose a danger to many around them, not least police officers, while meth cookers create health and safety hazards for their neighbors. Merging an unconstitutional anti-marijuana measure with a necessary attack on meth-making amounts to a sneak attack in the name of election-year pandering. The marijuana ban deserves its own examination, through the complete legislative process, and then it deserves to be dumped as a waste of state effort and money.

The bill's proponents, including the Murkowski administration and its Department of Law, reject the Supreme Court's precedent and want another day in court. With this legislation they are trying to make a case that today's marijuana is not your 1975 hippie's marijuana, but instead is much more potent. They note that laws against cocaine possession have survived privacy-based challenges because cocaine can be a killer, and argue that today's marijuana is more menacing than yesterday's.

But the Alaska Supreme Court has declined administration appeals to review the issue, and as recently as 2004 the Alaska Court of Appeals rejected the state's claim that it could execute search warrants for small amounts of marijuana. Nothing is new here except the year and the election cycle. Passage of the Senate's so-called "methi-juana" bill would merely ensure that police would invade someone's privacy and that the state would follow up by prosecuting that offender only to be shot down once more for violating the Alaska Constitution.

Meth and marijuana present vastly different physical, social and legal issues. They deserve separate consideration in the Legislature.

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