Administration builds case against pot

Assistant attorney general says marijuana is now stronger than it was in the 1970s

Posted: Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Possession of small amounts of marijuana at home for personal use will soon be challenged by the state, based on a body of information being compiled by the Alaska Legislature.

A proposal by Gov. Frank Murkowski seeks to increase the penalties for marijuana use and possession. It also opens a forum for lawmakers to hear "expert testimony on the effects of marijuana and to make findings that the courts can rely on in cases where marijuana is an issue," according to the governor.

Murkowski proposed companion anti-marijuana bills in the House and Senate this year, but neither made it to their respective bodies for a vote. This year was the first of the Legislature's two-year session, so bills stay alive through the end of 2006.

The Alaska Supreme Court made possession of up to 4 ounces of marijuana for use at home by adults legal in 1975 in the landmark Ravin vs. state of Alaska decision. The ruling said the state must show a substantial relationship between private use of marijuana and the public welfare.

"It appears there is no firm evidence that marijuana, as presently used in this country, is generally a danger to the user or to others," according to court records. "But neither is there conclusive evidence to the effect that it is harmless."

Chief Assistant Attorney General Dean Guaneli said times have changed. Marijuana is more potent now than in the 1970s and used increasingly by young children, he said. The state plans to use information presented in committee when it challenges another marijuana possession case.

"We believe the courts are going to give that (information) great weight when another case comes before them that challenges the state's marijuana laws," he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska says there is not enough of a compelling state interest to take away an individual's privacy rights.

ACLU of Alaska Executive Director Michael Macleod-Ball said the argument that marijuana is more potent or that it is being used more by children is not enough of a public danger to make home use illegal.

"From a policy perspective, we believe that criminalizing drug possession and use does not solve the problems that are associated with drug use in our society," he said.

Guaneli said the state could challenge a decision from an appeals court issued last August that upheld a lower court decision saying state troopers illegally searched a marijuana growing operation in Point Anchor, about 15 miles northwest of Homer.

A Superior Court dismissed the evidence and charges against Leo Richardson Crocker Jr., because the state must have probable cause to believe there is more than four ounces - the current legal limit - in the home.

"The warrant application must provide an affirmative reason to conclude that the possession is illegal or that the marijuana otherwise constitutes evidence of a crime," the appeals court said.

Guaneli said the state could wait for the bills to pass next year to use the official legislative record or it could use testimony that already has been presented to the Legislature.

"We certainly would like the Legislature's stamp of approval on this," Guaneli said. "It makes our case in court stronger."

Murkowski's Senate Bill 74 still awaits approval by the Senate Finance Committee - the last stop before heading to the full Senate for a vote. And House Bill 96 still awaits approval from the House Judiciary and Finance committees before receiving a final vote by the House.



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