Source: Anchorage Daily News (AK)
Author: Sean Cockerham, Anchorage Daily News
Published: April 2nd, 2005
Copyright: 2005 The Anchorage Daily News
Contact: [email protected]
Juneau, Alaska -- The governor's attempt to outlaw at-home marijuana
passed the Senate health committee Friday amid conflicting claims about
whether pot is as harmful as alcohol.
Scientists from Harvard, the University of Southern California and the
University of Alaska Fairbanks testified Friday against the governor's
bill. Their statements contradicted testimony last week from state and
federal drug officials who said pot is a dangerous drug.
The Senate Health and Social Services Committee table was stacked with
massive binders and books with conflicting claims. Legislators weighed
testimony from competing experts who each insisted the other side was
Opponents of the bill urged lawmakers to put it on the slow track; they
said the three hearings the committee held were not nearly enough to go
through the scientific evidence over marijuana.
Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, disagreed. Dyson, chairman of the
committee, said testimony from state officials point to a marijuana
problem. The bill has to keep moving or it can't pass in the final five
weeks of the legislation session, he said.
"I want to be an action guy," Dyson said. "Blue ribbon panels and more
studies are a place for things to die."
Dyson said the bill still has two more committees in the Senate and also
the House to go through before it becomes law. He said he is going to
read through more of the marijuana literature and will address the bill
again in the finance committee.
The Alaska Supreme Court in September let stand a lower court ruling
that adults have the right to possess less than four ounces of pot for
personal use in their homes. The court ruled it is protected under the
strong right to privacy in the state Constitution.
Gov. Frank Murkowski's bill, Senate Bill 74, seeks to create a
legislative record of the harms of marijuana that the state can use in
court to attempt to show it has an overriding interest in trumping the
right to privacy.
The heart of the bill is 19 "findings" about what pot does to health and
The bill said marijuana is much more harmful than it was in the 1970s.
That's a key point because a 1975 Alaska Supreme Court decision was the
basis for the current legalization of at-home pot.
It's not true, testified Lester Grinspoon, an associate professor of
psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
"Marijuana is no more harmful today than it was in 1975," he asserted.
He said pot is "arguably" somewhat stronger than three decades ago. But
that means people smoke less of it, Grinspoon said. He also disputed the
bill's claims about the health effects of the smoke and that it is a
steppingstone to use of other drugs.
"Given the extremely short time allotted for this hearing, there is no
way I can thoroughly respond to all the erroneous findings," he said.
Mitch Earleywine, an associate professor of psychology at the University
of Southern California, said science doesn't back up government claims
of a link between marijuana and automobile accidents.
He also disputed the claims that marijuana is more harmful now than it
was in the past.
"It's not completely harmless but certainly nowhere near as dangerous as
presented," said Earleywine, who wrote a book on the subject.
The bill also declared that marijuana "has addictive properties similar
to heroin." But studies show otherwise, testified Kelly Drew, an
associate professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry at
the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Drew said the data ranks pot as less addictive than tobacco, alcohol,
cocaine and heroin.
Assistant attorney general Dean Guaneli, representing the governor, said
he might want to revise the comparison between pot and heroin. But in
general, he said, he is comfortable with the findings in the bill.
Guaneli pointed to last week's testimony from the White House office of
drug control policy that there is growing evidence of the harmful
impacts of pot, particularly on developing adolescents. He said the
marijuana problem is worsening among the young and rural Natives.
"The point of the governor's bill is to focus on emerging problems," he
Dyson and Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, agreed there is enough evidence
of a problem and gave the bill a "do pass" recommendation.
Sen. Donny Olson, D-Nome, a physician, let the bill move out of
committee but with no recommendation. Sen. Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, passed
on voting, saying she first wanted to take a closer look at whether the
findings in the bill are accurate.
Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, opposed the bill, saying he didn't think the
state made the scientific case. He said he was worried that the bill,
which would also make it much easier to prosecute pot possession as a
felony, would sap dollars needed to go after other crimes.
Related Articles & Web Site:
Dr. Lester Grinspoon
MJ Bill Ramps Up Debate on Drug's Potency
White House Expert: Pot is Dangerous
Hearing On Outlawing MJ Stirs Strong Feelings
Pot Issue Brought To Senate by State
Governor Moves To Change Pot Law