Source: Anchorage Daily News (AK)
Author: Sean Cockerham, Anchorage Daily News
Published: January 22, 2005
Copyright: 2005 The Anchorage Daily News
Contact: [email protected]
Juneau -- Gov. Frank Murkowski on Friday asked the Legislature to
overrule a court ruling that adult Alaskans have the right to possess
marijuana for personal use in their homes.
Murkowski introduced a bill that challenges the state court's ruling and
that would significantly tighten other state marijuana laws -- making a
lot more pot crimes into felonies.
"The Legislature finds that marijuana poses a threat to the public
health that justifies prohibiting its use in this state, even by adults
in private," the bill declares.
Everyone expects the fight to go back to the courts if the Legislature
passes the bill. The ruling that made at-home pot possession of up to
four ounces legal for personal use was based on the right to privacy in
the state constitution.
The Legislature cannot change the constitution without a statewide vote.
But the governor hopes the bill and hearings over it will show the
courts that pot is a lot more powerful than it used to be and that the
state has an overriding interest in forbidding it.
William Satterberg, the Fairbanks lawyer who argued the case that
toppled the state prohibition on at-home pot, said he doesn't think the
courts will backtrack.
"Unconstitutional still remains unconstitutional no matter what the
Legislature thinks," Satterberg said.
The Alaska Supreme Court in September let stand a lower court ruling
last year that adult Alaskans have the right to possess up to four
ounces of marijuana in their homes for personal use. The lower court
based its opinion on a 1975 decision, known as Ravin v. State, which
declared the strong right to privacy from government interference that
is guaranteed under the Alaska Constitution outweighed any social harm
that might be caused by the small at-home use of marijuana by adults.
Ravin remained the law in Alaska until 1990, when voters passed an
initiative outlawing all amounts of marijuana. But last year's court
ruling said a constitutionally protected right -- in this case at-home
pot -- cannot be taken away by an initiative.
Murkowski argues that marijuana is a lot stronger and more harmful
nowadays than in 1975 when the courts said the right to privacy
outweighed the social harm. The governor said the bill he introduced
Friday will help the state make it clear to the courts that this is the
"The bill would provide a forum for the Legislature to hear expert
testimony on the effects of marijuana and to make findings that the
courts can rely on," the governor said in a letter to lawmakers.
Rep. Norm Rokeberg, R-Anchorage and a member of the House leadership,
said the court overruled the will of the Legislature and Alaska voters
when it declared some at-home use of marijuana to be legal. He said he
expects the Legislature will be interested in taking a good look at
The bill would also make possession of more than four ounces of pot a
felony. The felony cutoff under current law is a pound. The bill would
also make it a felony to give or sell any marijuana to anyone under the
age of 21.
The Alaska public defender's agency said it would need another $160,000
a year in state funds to meet its increased workload under the bill.
"We handle 500 misdemeanor drug cases, primarily involving marijuana,"
the agency said in a written statement. "At least half of these would
become felonies. Felonies take more work than misdemeanors."
DA Asks Judge To Look at Issue of Possession
Could Affect Thousands of Alaskans
Overwhelmingly Reject Marijuana
Police Told to Keep Probing Pot Use
Marijuana Ruling Puts Police on Hold