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Marijuana Bill Would Overwhelm Police

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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 against children.

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 own homes.

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 privacy.

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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