Source: Anchorage Daily News (AK)
Author: Sheila Toomey, Anchorage Daily News
Published: January 7, 2004
Copyright: 2004 The Anchorage Daily News
Contact: [email protected]
Legalization -- Small amounts would be OK for personal use; two other proposals expected.
A proposal to legalize marijuana use in private by people older than 21 has become the first initiative approved for the 2004 general election ballot.
Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, a public opponent of legalization, announced Tuesday that he has certified the 28,783 petition signatures required to place the initiative before voters.
With less than a week left before the 2004 initiative deadline, only two of six petitions still outstanding are expected to show up on time with the requisite number of signatures, said Tom Godkin, a supervisor in the Division of Elections.
To make it onto the Nov. 2 ballot, signature booklets must be at the Division of Elections before the gavel comes down on the opening of the new legislative session, which is 10 a.m. next Monday.
Sponsors of an initiative to outlaw bear baiting and one mandating an election to fill U.S. Senate vacancies have advised the division they will be bringing in their signature booklets before then, Godkin said.
Nearly 30 years after the state Supreme Court first concluded that Alaskans have a right to possess small amounts of marijuana in their homes for personal use, the recreational drug that gained wide acceptance in the 1960s is still provoking challenges in court and on the ballot.
Leman's certification of the marijuana initiative Tuesday came one day after the state asked the Alaska Supreme Court to review a 2003 lower court decision that throws out the current law making possession of small amounts of marijuana a misdemeanor.
The appeals court took the state by surprise with its August ruling, which showed up in a routine Fairbanks possession case. In its opinion, the appeals court cited the 1975 state Supreme Court decision Ravin v. State, which said privacy rights permit Alaskans to possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use. The Ravin court said it reached that decision by balancing the importance of individual rights against the minimal danger posed by small amounts of the drug.
The Murkowski administration hopes to convince the current Supreme Court that marijuana now poses more than a minimal danger.
"There is new information about marijuana that should be considered," said Chief Assistant Attorney General Dean Guaneli on Tuesday.
The pro-marijuana initiative and the state court action are just the latest round in an old fight unlikely to end soon.
In 1990, marijuana opponents used the initiative process to recriminalize possession of small amounts. Voters approved recriminalization at the misdemeanor level by a 10,000-vote margin.
In 1998, 60 percent of voters approved legalizing marijuana for medical use.
In 2000, an initiative not only legalizing marijuana but releasing people already convicted from prison and providing for payment of reparations was soundly rejected.
The initiative approved for the ballot Monday would eliminate civil and criminal penalties for people 21 years or older who "grow, use, sell or give away marijuana or other hemp products." Under the initiative, marijuana "could be regulated like alcohol or tobacco." The initiative permits laws limiting marijuana use in public or to protect public safety. It leaves in place bans against use by minors.
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