What others say: Future of marijuana bill unclear

  • Wednesday, March 18, 2015 4:44pm
  • Opinion

After a rough initial outing and complete rewrite, the Alaska Legislature’s attempt at setting state rules for marijuana legalization appears to have ground to a halt once more. Senate Bill 30 would rewrite state laws to reflect marijuana’s legal status for personal possession and use following voter approval of Ballot Measure 2 in November 2014. But a controversial amendment by Fairbanks Sen. Pete Kelly has dimmed the prospect that a fix to conflicting state laws on legalization is imminent.

At first, SB 30 was an ugly bill. Rather than reflect marijuana’s legal status, as originally written, the bill would have left state drug laws intact — including illegal status for pot — and simply let defendants charged with marijuana possession offer the passage of legalization as an affirmative defense. Legislators, state law officials and legalization advocates railed against the bill’s language as not reflective of voters’ intention in passing the ballot measure.

After a brief hiatus, the bill was rewritten to better address laws in the state that needed to be changed to reflect the drug’s legal status. It took time and debate, but the Legislature appeared to be heading toward a bill that would clarify state drug laws, reflect voter intention and maintain prohibitions on larger-scale marijuana growing.

That changed last week, when Sen. Kelly introduced an amendment that would make marijuana concentrates and edibles — and perhaps even the plant itself — illegal in 2017, as soon as the initiative could legally be altered.

Sen. Kelly, in arguing for his amendment, said voters had no idea the marijuana initiative would legalize marijuana edibles and concentrates if passed. While it’s true the language of the ballot measure as it appeared on the ballot doesn’t make explicit mention of edibles and concentrates, instead referring to “marijuana and marijuana products,” significant advertising and debating was done by those opposing the measure that highlighted the fact such products also would be made legal. Alaska news reports and coverage of the legalization of the drug in Colorado and Washington also made repeated mention of edibles and other marijuana products. While some Alaskans may not have been aware of that aspect of the measure, it’s a safe bet most did know about it.

Whether or not one agrees on Sen. Kelly’s reading of voter awareness of the legalization of derivative marijuana products, the wording of his amendment, either by accident or design, might well ban marijuana possession and use outright come 2017. It would criminalize any “material” containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana. It’s not hard to see how that could result in a complete ban on marijuana.

So SB 30 appears dead in the water once again, with no hearings scheduled and no apparent way to resolve the bill’s conflict with voter intent in passing marijuana legalization.

All of a sudden, 90 days is looking like it might not be enough time for legislators to clean up state drug laws and bring Alaska’s statutes into line with the intent of its people. If that proves to be the case, it would be an indictment of those in a position to make a difference on the issue in Juneau.

Municipalities have done good work in sorting out their definitions of how and where marijuana can be used. The Legislature should get on the ball and eliminate the conflicts in state law, not create them.

— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,

March 17

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