Source: Anchorage Daily News (AK)
Author: David Finkelstein and Bill Parker
Published: April 6th, 2005
Copyright: 2005 The Anchorage Daily News
Contact: [email protected]
Juneau, Alaska -- At the request of Gov. Frank Murkowski, Alaska
legislators are considering twin bills that would put nonviolent
marijuana users on a par with adults who possess child pornography or
commit incest. Worse, these bills -- House Bill 96 and Senate Bill 74 --
attempt to steamroll Alaskans' right to privacy, while potentially
making our state's violent crime problem worse.
These unconstitutional bills are intended to subvert last September's
decision by the Alaska Supreme Court, which affirmed that the Alaska
Constitution protects the adult possession and use of up to four ounces
of marijuana at home. As a result of this decision, Alaska's busy police
cannot make arrests unless they have reasonable cause to believe that
more than four ounces of marijuana are involved.
But now the governor and certain state legislators are attempting to
circumvent Alaskans' right to privacy and drastically increase the
penalties for a host of marijuana-related offenses.
According to the Alaska Public Defender Agency, of the 500
marijuana-related misdemeanors that it handles every year, more than
half would become felonies if these bills pass. That means overextended
police and prosecutors -- and eventually jailers -- would spend a lot
more time and money on these cases.
Marijuana's felony status would divert valuable police resources from
violent crimes, which we can't afford. Alaska has six times the national
average of reported child sexual assaults and 2.4 times the national
average of reported rapes. In Anchorage alone, overworked police cannot
investigate almost 25 percent of rapes and about 40 percent of crimes
Our state has a serious problem with violent crime, yet Gov. Murkowski
and his legislative allies want to divert even more police resources
away from investigating and prosecuting these crimes. This proposed
legislation would let people who commit rape or assault children go free
in order to send the police after nonviolent marijuana users in their
Does this make any sense to you?
Not only are these bills draconian and illogical, they violate Alaska's
constitution, which guarantees the right of privacy that Alaskans hold
dear. So Gov. Murkowski is trying to do an end-run around our
constitution. To justify this dishonest scheme, he's concocted a
completely phony set of justifications, based on the scientifically
discredited claim that today's marijuana is so much more potent than
what was available 20 or 30 years ago that it's essentially a different
and more dangerous drug.
Such a claim is simply preposterous. These assertions about potency and
danger -- actually written into the language of the bills -- fly in the
face of mountains of scientific data showing that high-potency marijuana
has always been available and overall potency has increased only mildly,
posing no discernible public health risk. Experts on marijuana and
substance abuse, some whom will be heard during the first legislative
hearing on the bills March 23, regard the governor's claims as
laughable. Unfortunately, the governor seems to have even less interest
in facts than he does in Alaska's constitution or our citizens' right to
Alaska needs marijuana policies built on facts and common sense. We
don't need a reckless assault on our privacy based on phony arguments,
and we certainly don't need to divert even more of our already
overstretched police, court and correctional resources away from
prosecuting violent crimes. We can do better than HB 96 and SB 74.
David Finkelstein and Bill Parker are former Alaska state
representatives from Anchorage.
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