White House expert: Pot is dangerous

Bill would criminalize possession of more than an ounce of drug

Posted: Thursday, March 24, 2005

A White House official on Wednesday testified to marijuana's dangers during the second hearing of a bill that aims to criminalize Alaskans' possession of more than an ounce of the drug.

Researcher David Murray of the White House's Office on National Drug Control Policy told a Senate committee that marijuana users develop serious cases of psychosis and other problems from inhaling doses of carcinogenic chemicals.

"This is a dirty, dirty drug," Murray said. He testified via phone at the request of Assistant Attorney General Dean Guaneli, who is spearheading the governor's bill.

Guaneli said the point of the expert testimonies heard Wednesday and earlier this week was to get evidence on the record and overturn a 2003 Court of Appeals decision that ruled Alaskans can have up to 4 ounces of pot and be protected under a right to privacy law.

If the bill is signed into law, there will be a motion to dismiss the 2003 Court of Appeals case. Then the court must decide to keep the existing law or to enforce the one now being written by the Legislature.

"The Legislature is where the debate belongs," said Guaneli.

Those possessing more than 4 ounces would be charged with a Class C felony and those with an ounce would be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, according to the bill.

John Fielder, a clinical psychologist at St. Mary's Medical Hospital in San Francisco, made a presentation by phone. In his years of experience, the doctor said he has treated many patients he says were addicted to marijuana.

Heath and Social Services Committee Chairman Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, asked if there was any connection to violence, or whether pot was just a "chill-out" drug.

Fielder said smoking marijuana leads to violent behavior down the road. "If I smoke marijuana, I may not be led to rob a store. But I can lose my job and then be motivated to steal," he said.

When citizens were allowed to speak, many were curious why the experts spoke mostly of marijuana's harmful effects on teenagers and not adults.

"I can't think of a more laudable goal than to keep my children away from smoking pot," said Anchorage father John Fairleigh. "But all this bill wants to do is persecute adult users."

Of the nine Alaskans who phoned in by Legislative Information Offices around the state, all were opposed to the bill, including a retired physician who worked in a Kodiak alcohol treatment center.

"I've known individuals who smoked marijuana and did not go on to harder drugs," he said.

A handful of Republicans called to inform their legislators that Democrats and Greens are not the only ones who oppose the bill and want to legalize the drug.

In November, a voter initiative attempted to legalize and possibly tax marijuana, but the measure failed at 44 percent, or 134,647 votes.

"Somewhere in that number are thousands of Republicans who do not want this bill to pass," said Fairleigh, also a Republican.

"I'm looking forward to going home and telling people why I support this bill," replied Sen. Fred Wilkens, R-Fairbanks.

On April 1, the Senate committee will have a final public commit period before it moves to two more committees. The Alaska Civil Liberties Union is expected to make a presentation, among other opponents of the bill.

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