- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2006

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska’s law on marijuana possession is considered the most liberal in the country — but its governor wants to change that, saying that pot has evolved into “a dangerous drug.”

Republican Gov. Frank H. Murkowski says recreational use of marijuana no longer should be protected by Alaskans’ right to privacy. He’s pressing the Legislature to restore criminal penalties for marijuana possession.

Residents now are allowed to keep up to 4 ounces of marijuana in their homes.

The intent is to trigger a constitutional challenge and ultimately overturn the landmark Alaska Supreme Court decision that legalized the use of small amounts of marijuana. The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska is poised to mount such a challenge, should the law be enacted.

The state’s highest court concluded in 1975 that Alaskans’ constitutional right to privacy outweighed any harm that might occur from using small amounts of marijuana in their homes. State legislators set that amount at 4 ounces in 1982.

Although 11 other states have “decriminalized” personal use of small amounts of marijuana, they generally set the limit at a single ounce, and most levy a fine for possession, said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Alaska’s marijuana laws are “bar none” the most liberal in the country, he said.

Federal law prohibits any use of marijuana, but 11 states, including Alaska, allow it to be used for medicinal purposes.

Mr. Murkowski’s marijuana bill is wrapped into legislation that seeks to curb the manufacture of methamphetamine and awaits action in a legislative committee.

House Majority Leader John Coghill, a Republican, said the marriage of the two bills has caused some resentment within his caucus, especially among members who do not support the marijuana legislation. Yet he thinks the measure will pass.

If it does, Alaska would make possession of 4 ounces or more of marijuana a felony. Possession of less than 4 ounces but more than 1 ounce would be a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail. Less than 1 ounce would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail.

The Murkowski administration insists that marijuana is a different drug now than it was in the 1970s and 1980s.

The bill says marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, is far more potent and dangerous today, especially for young people.

“If they’re going to look at whether today’s marijuana is still entitled to the same privacy protection, they need to look at what kind of drug we have now,” said Dean Guaneli, the state’s chief assistant attorney general.

The state says THC levels have risen tenfold or more in the past three decades.

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