Pot prop backers: U.S. laws unjust

Critics of marijuana initiative say many would experiment with the drug if it were legal

Posted: Tuesday, October 26, 2004

ANCHORAGE - Tim Hinterberger teaches neural anatomy to future doctors and physiology to future nurses at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

On the side, he hopes to foment change in America's marijuana policy.

Hinterberger, 48, is a sponsor of Ballot Measure 2, which would make Alaska the first state to completely decriminalize marijuana.

America's laws on marijuana are unjust, expensive and unsuccessful, he contends.

"Why would you prohibit marijuana in a society where you allow the consumption of things such as alcohol and tobacco?" he asked.

The government commissions studies, assembles panels of experts and ignores their conclusions, he said. The studies conclude that the harm caused by prohibiting marijuana outweighs the harmful effects of the drug, Hinterberger contends.

The measure would allow people 21 and older to use, grow, sell or give away pot. The measure proposes trading prohibition for state regulation, much as the state regulates alcohol - banning marijuana use by minors, perhaps capping the amount an individual can grow, jailing people who drive impaired - and taxing its sales.

It's a logical alternative to expensive, unsuccessful enforcement of current marijuana laws, Hinterberger said.

His argument has not swayed Wev Shea, a former U.S. attorney for Alaska and a veteran of the state's drug policy battles.

"We don't need another harmful hallucinogenic drug legalized," Shea said.

Shea contends that many Alaskans, including children, would experiment with marijuana and take on its risks if it were not illegal.

"It's something that should never be socially acceptable by any society that cares about the children," he said.

Marijuana advocates in 1998 used the initiative process to win passage of a medical marijuana law.

Advocates of the current ballot measure had to sue Lt. Gov. Loren Leman to accept required signatures on their petitions. They sued him again this month after it was revealed that his chief of staff had written the opposition statement in the state's Official Election Pamphlet.

On Monday, an Anchorage Superior Court judge ruled that Leman's staff wrongly drafted the statement of opposition, but no further action was warranted because, in part, a physician had taken authorship of the statement.

Matthew Fagnani, chairman of Alaskans Against the Legalization of Marijuana and Hemp, calls the measure a "smoke and mirrors" initiative. Sponsors have not said how Alaska could regulate marijuana potency or a distribution system. He doubts the state could and suggests it should be regulated at the federal level.

The measure gives people a false sense of security, he said.

Fagnani is president of WorkSafe Inc., a company that administers drug tests. Passing the ballot measure would be good for his business but harmful to most others, he said.

"This initiative wreaks havoc on Alaska employers' liability if it passes," he said. It would force employers to come up with programs and policies for employees who show up impaired, he said.

How is that different from an employee showing up drunk?

"The difference is that currently the employer has policy and rules about that and we have levels that declare impairment," Fagnani said. "How are you going to do that with marijuana?"

Hinterberger said marijuana is irrationally stigmatized.

"Nobody feels ashamed to say they have a glass of beer when they get home," he said, and few people can now fathom the country's experiment with alcohol prohibition last century.

"Prohibitions just don't fit in a free society," he said. "Maybe in a police state, but not in a free democratic society."

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