By Alfa · Oct 11, 2004 ·
  1. Alfa

    Some Question the Need After 2003 State Court Ruling.

    Alaskans will decide next month whether to overturn a state law
    making marijuana possession illegal, but a court decision in 2003 may
    make the effort moot.

    Legalization advocates are pumping hundreds of thousands in campaign
    dollars from outside Alaska to promote passage of Ballot Measure 2,
    while an opposition group in Anchorage operates on a shoestring budget
    of about $10,000. The marijuana initiative is one of four ballot
    questions voters will decide on in the Nov. 2 election.

    "I'm concerned," said former U.S. Attorney Wev Shea, an Anchorage
    lawyer who prosecuted federal drug cases in the early 1990s. "I'm
    concerned any time someone comes in and targets Alaskans."

    He said recent television and radio advertisements are funded by an
    organization based in Washington, D.C., known as the Marijuana Policy
    Project. He said one of the ads aims to mislead the public by
    suggesting that the government could target guns, alcohol or
    cigarettes next.

    He said the legalization issue was decided this year when the state
    Supreme Court allowed an appeals court ruling to stand permitting
    possession in the home.

    "According to Alaska state law right now you can possess up to four
    ounces of marijuana," Shea said. "If that's the law now, why are they
    bringing up these ads that you are going to lose the right to privacy?"

    Al Anders of Juneau, a coordinator for the advocacy group Yes On 2,
    denied the charges that the legalization effort is pushed by an
    Outside group. Anders also is a former chairman for the Libertarian
    Party of Alaska and candidate for the U.S. House of

    "I find it laughable to refer to this initiative as being funded by
    outside money," Anders said, noting that he alone collected 9,000 of
    the signatures to certify the initiative. "We put this thing on the
    ballot by ourselves."

    Alaskans have spent the last three decades arguing over the state's
    marijuana laws. In 1975, the state Supreme Court issued its landmark
    Ravin versus State decision, protecting possession of marijuana for
    personal use under the Alaska Constitution. It
    added, though, that the
    possession of amounts of marijuana that indicate an "intent to sell
    rather than for personal use" remained illegal. The Supreme Court
    noted in its decision that although it maintained an individual's
    freedom to use marijuana "we wish to make clear that we do not mean to
    condone the use of marijuana."

    The Legislature in 1982 passed a law drawing the line for home use at
    four ounces, but a 1990 citizen initiative criminalized possession.
    That was considered state law until 2003, when the Alaska Court of
    Appeals decided that the constitutional protection to privacy cannot
    be trumped by a citizen initiative. Attorney General Greg Renkes
    petitioned the state Supreme Court to reconsider the ruling but was
    denied a hearing last month.

    Paul Grant, a Juneau attorney who serves on the state board of the
    American Civil Liberties Union, said that although the constitution
    trumps the power of initiative, this initiative would do more than
    just legalize possession.

    It also fills in gaps left by the court decision, such as establishing
    guidelines for possession of industrial hemp products and protecting
    doctors who recommend marijuana use to their patients, he said.

    Grant said he believes this year's initiative has a much better chance
    than a similar legalization effort in 2000 that won only 41 percent of
    the vote. The 2000 initiative would have legalized possession of four
    ounces for those 18 and older. The proposal also would have provided
    amnesty for those convicted of marijuana-related crimes and
    established an advisory group to review restitution for those arrested.

    This year's initiative allows those 21 and older to possess four
    ounces or less for personal use in their home and allows the state to
    regulate marijuana like alcohol or tobacco.

    "Certainly this version is more moderate and it's going to attract
    people who couldn't swallow the idea of amnesty and couldn't swallow
    the possibility of restitution," Grant said.

    Steve Mihalik, an organizer for the anti-legalization movement, said
    he believes that most people do not support drug use, despite the
    collection of more than 28,000 signatures to get the initiative on the

    "We need to make sure we don't get confused between support and a
    signature," said Mihalik, general manager of the Anchorage
    drug-testing firm WorkSafe, Inc. "Not many people take the time to
    read four pages of the petition initiative."

    He argued that marijuana use is a gateway to more harmful drugs like
    cocaine and that legalizing it will make it more available to children.

    "The first cigarette I smoked was the one I stole from my parents," he

    Grant argued that many people across the state already use marijuana
    and use it responsibly.

    "I don't think there's any evidence that decriminalizing marijuana is
    going to change use patterns," Grant said. "I don't think
    decriminalizing it is going to make it any easier for high school kids
    to get ahold of it. Regulating it, in my view, is going to make it
    harder to get a hold of because the supply is going to be under control."

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