JUNEAU — Bills that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana have been put on hold while lawmakers wait for a new draft that better reflects the intent of voters.
During a joint session of the House and Senate Judiciary committees Wednesday, Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, said the bills, versions of which were introduced in both the House and Senate, are being rewritten. The bills were intended to legalize 1 ounce or less of marijuana for adults 21 and older.
But they raised concerns from marijuana legalization supporters and the state’s public defender agency. They said the method proposed for decriminalizing the drug didn’t match what voters asked for in approving an initiative that would legalize recreational use of pot.
Amy Saltzman, a legislative staff member working on the bill, said lawmakers still want to pass a version of the bill by Feb. 24, when the marijuana initiative is set to take effect.
Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, and chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said that legislators are looking at creating a new marijuana control board to help draft some of the marijuana regulations, an option provided in the initiative.
Cindy Franklin, executive director of the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, said during the hearing that a hybrid approach, where such a board shared administrative staff and resources with the ABC board, was supported by Gov. Bill Walker in a December meeting.
If a marijuana board is intended to deal with enforcement, which the ABC board does, Franklin said it should be created in this first decriminalization bill, not in a commercialization bill planned for later in the session. The initiative did not give the board the ability to enforce regulations.
In the meantime, Franklin said the ABC board is considering using its emergency rulemaking process to create a regulation defining what a public place is, to make it clear where marijuana is prohibited.
Supporters of marijuana legalization also testified at Wednesday’s hearing and raised their concerns about the old draft of the bill.
Karen O’Keefe from the Marijuana Policy Project, which supported the ballot measure legalizing marijuana, said she appreciated that it was being rewritten.