Court denies state's marijuana case appeal

Attorney general says next step is state's high court

Posted: Sunday, November 16, 2003

ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Court of Appeals has rejected a request by the state to reconsider a decision allowing adults to possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use.

In a ruling Friday, the court denied Alaska Attorney General Gregg Renkes' petition for a rehearing in the case of David Noy, a North Pole man who was arrested in 2001 after he was found with marijuana in his home.

Renkes said the next step is to ask the Alaska Supreme Court take up the case.

In August, the appeals court reversed Noy's conviction and ruled that Alaskans have the right to possess less than four ounces of marijuana in their homes for personal use.

The court based its ruling on the broad right to privacy in Alaska's constitution, as interpreted in the 1975 landmark Alaska Supreme Court case of Ravin v. State.

The Ravin decision had led to the legalization of at-home use of small amounts of marijuana for several years, giving Alaska the most liberal pot laws in the nation.

That ended in 1990 when Alaska voters passed an initiative to criminalize the possession of all pot.

But this summer's ruling in the Noy case interpreted the Ravin decision as meaning that Alaska's constitutional right to privacy is so strong that the voters - and the Legislature - are restricted from just deciding that pot should be illegal in the home.

"The state contends that this view of Ravin is fundamentally flawed and that Ravin did not announce a constitutional restriction on the government's lawmaking power ... we are convinced that the state's interpretation of Ravin is wrong," the state appeals court said Friday in its ruling on the Noy marijuana case.

Dean Guaneli, the chief assistant attorney general, responded that the appeals court misunderstood arguments made by the state.

Despite what appeared to give all indications of a negative ruling for the state, the attorney general's office issued a press release Friday classifying the decision as at least a partial victory.

Although the decision denied a rehearing, the release states, it did give the state permission to challenge the Ravin decision.

Guaneli said the office based this interpretation of the decision on the last sentence, which reads "the state remains free in the future to challenge the continuing vitality of Ravin."

William Satterberg, the Fairbanks lawyer who is opposing the attorney general in the Noy case, said the Friday appeals court ruling gave the state no power to challenge the Ravin decision that it didn't already have.

But Guaneli said the state was worried that the appeals courts ruling on the Noy case was couched in terms so ironclad that the state might be unable to go back and attack the Ravin decision.

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