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Judge To Rule Monday On New Marijuana Law

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Alaska -- A Juneau Superior Court judge will reach a decision on Monday about the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska's request to toss out a new law that toughens state penalties on marijuana possession. Judge Patricia Collins heard arguments on Wednesday from the ACLU and the state.
The bill that was signed into law this year includes findings that the state plans to use to convince the courts that marijuana is more harmful today than it was in 1975. That was the year that the state Supreme Court, in a case known as Ravin vs. State, ruled that residents can keep small amounts in their homes. The Alaska Legislature later set the amount at 4 ounces.
The new law also states that those possessing more than 4 ounces would be charged with a Class C felony; those with an ounce would be charged with a Class A misdemeanor; and those with less than an ounce would be charged with a Class B misdemeanor.
The ACLU and a handful of anonymous plaintiffs claim the law ignores the Alaska Constitution's provision granting a right to privacy. Adults using marijuana in their homes, for medicinal or recreational purposes, now face the prospect of surveillance, searches and criminal sanctions, the group says.
"As the judge said, it's a complex issue," said Dean Guaneli, assistant attorney general for the state, pointing to two boxes of binders in front of him.
The ACLU maintains this case is a question of constitutional law and it should be matched up against previous Supreme Court rulings that have allowed Alaskans to continue possessing marijuana. The state wants the court to look at new evidence the Legislature assembled during committee hearings on the dangers of the drug.
The plaintiff and the defense said the judge's ruling on Monday could come in a variety of forms, and this case could be far from over.
"She can rule as a matter of law that Ravin controls and this court does not have the authority to overrule the Supreme Court and therefore she should rule in our favor on summary judgment," said Jason Brandeis, staff attorney for the ACLU.
If that is the case, the state can choose to appeal to the Supreme Court, he added.
"But if she decides that she does not want to rule in our favor as a matter of law and she feels that this court can hold an evidentiary hearing to look at the facts that are at issue, we would certainly look forward to that," Brandeis said.
Guaneli used the case as an opportunity to report that marijuana use among pregnant women and teenage girls in Alaska was higher than averages seen nationally. The law, signed on June 3, includes dozens of statistics similar to this one.
"The judge has to look at the findings to make a decision," he said.
If Collins decides she needs to look at more evidence, Brandeis said it would give the ACLU the opportunity to have an "impartial" expert review the facts.
The judge also could rule in the state's favor and dismiss the case, leaving the ACLU with the option to appeal, Guaneli said.
Bill Parker, a member of the advocacy group Alaskans for Marijuana Regulation and Control, said this case is another round in the war on marijuana that's been going on for more than 30 years.
"We've had very good luck with the courts and I bet we will again," he said.
Note: State wants court to look at new evidence.
Source: Juneau Empire (AK)
Author: Andrew Petty, Juneau Empire
Published: July 6, 2006
Copyright: 2006 Southeastern Newspaper Corp
 

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