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Marijuana lawyer Irwin Ravin dies in Anchorage

Activist who set himself up to get busted dies at 70

Posted: Wednesday, April 14, 2010

ANCHORAGE - Homer lawyer Irwin Ravin who challenged Alaska's marijuana possession law has died at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage. He was 70.

A hospital spokeswoman did not disclose the cause of death.

In 1973, Ravin arranged to have himself arrested with marijuana in his pocket so he could challenge the law.

The case went to the Alaska Supreme Court. It ruled in 1975 that banning home use and possession of small amounts of marijuana violated a constitutional right to privacy.

The Anchorage Daily News reports that lawmakers, activists and others have battled since then over the law and its implications.

"Supposedly you can possess it in your house," said Sgt. Denny Allen, supervisor of the Anchorage police Community Action Policing team. "But then the question becomes: how do you get it there?"

The Ravin decision did not mention a specific amount one could possess, but in 1982 the Alaska Legislature determined less than four ounces was a personal stash unless there was evidence of sales or distribution. That amount was later reduced to one ounce.

Today, the law remains murky. In 2006, the Alaska Legislature passed a law re-criminalizing small amounts of pot at home, said state Department of Law spokesman Bill McAllister.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska challenged the law on privacy grounds and won in Superior Court, he said. But the state appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court, which threw out the lower court decision but didn't clarify the conflict with Ravin, he said.

"So the law that was passed in 2006 is on the books," McAllister said. "It's unknown what would happen if a case was brought."

Anchorage police Lt. Dave Parker said police generally don't go looking for small quantities of marijuana in a home, but officers will confiscate it if they find it.



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