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State Appeals Pot Law

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Alaska -- Most Alaskans see the need to keep marijuana out of the hands of children and others hurt by the illegal industry, Gov. Frank Murkowski said in support of an appeal to a Juneau judge's decision striking down a marijuana law passed this spring.
Alaska Attorney General David Marquez announced Friday the state had filed notice with the Alaska Supreme Court seeking to overturn a July 10 ruling by Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins against the law that would make it a crime for adults to possess an ounce or less of marijuana.
Collins found that to uphold the law she would have to reverse a 1975 state Supreme Court decision, which she lacks the authority to do. She granted summary judgment to the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, which sued the state when the law took effect in June.
The law made marijuana possession of 4 ounces or more a felony. It made possession of 1 to 4 ounces a misdemeanor punishable of up to a year in jail. Collins specifically ruled against the part of the law that made possession of less than 1 ounce a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail.
"The majority of Alaskans recognize that marijuana is dangerous and needs to be kept out of the hands of our children and other vulnerable people who are victimized by the dealers involved in this huge illegal industry," Murkowski said in a news release issued by the state Department of Law.
During a a Friday morning news conference in Juneau, Murkowski said a recent murder in Fairbanks of a 22-year-old man authorities believe had not paid his marijuana bill, speaks to the need for tougher laws. "It points out that marijuana is dangerous in more ways than one."
The appeal isn't a surprise, said Michael W. Macleod-Ball, executive director of the ACLU of Alaska. Going into the litigation, he expected an appeal would follow by whichever side lost.
He said the governor's comments address politics instead of the law. This isn't about children using marijuana or penalties for people dealing or producing large amounts of marijuana, which are already illegal. It is about the right of privacy defined in the state's high court ruling defined in Ravin v. Alaska, which states the privacy in one's home includes the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use.
"If a majority gets to decide what our constitutional rights are, there would be no need for a constitution," he said Friday from his Anchorage office. The Alaska Constitution holds a stronger right of privacy than the U.S. Constitution, he added. "We have courts for a reason."
Marquez said in the Department of Law news release the ruling impedes law enforcement from obtaining search warrants for people engaging in production and distribution. "Possession of any amount of marijuana is illegal under federal law," he said.
"Really our case is a case on potency," Murkowski said Friday morning.
The state's appeal notes the court failed to consider the Legislature's findings that marijuana is stronger than it was when Ravin was decided.
"These findings reflect a significantly advanced understanding of the dangers of marijuana use, particularly in Alaska, that were not recognized 30 years ago," Marquez said in a Law Department news release.
"Based on this recognition that shifts in the potency of marijuana could pose a significant health threat, it is clear that our courts contemplated that a new case might be made in the future that would justify further criminalization of marijuana," Marquez said. "That time and that shift are now and warrant review by the state's highest court."
Macleod-Ball said the courts have recognized the danger, but not that the danger is great enough to outweigh people's constitutional rights.
• Staff writer Andrew Petty contributed to this story.
Note: Stronger potency of drug justifies new standard, AG says.
Source: Juneau Empire (AK)
Author: Tony Carroll, Juneau Empire
Published: July 30, 2006
Copyright: 2006 Southeastern Newspaper Corp
 

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