- Associated Press - Monday, January 13, 2014

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

Jan. 10, 2014

Ketchikan Daily News: The pot problem

Alaska can do better than Colorado and Washington state.

Both states legalized marijuana not simply for medicinal purposes: It’s a commercial enterprise for recreational use.

It’s also been a butt of jokes and editorial cartoons; it’s damaged the two states’ reputations.

Alaska doesn’t want to be viewed as a pot state; such a reputation won’t enhance the state at all.

Despite that, a citizens’ group, largely funded by Outside interests, has submitted more than 46,000 signatures to the state election office in hopes of placing a marijuana initiative on the ballot. The group needs 30,000 valid signatures or 7 percent of the voters in at least 30 House districts. The signatures will be checked to ensure they’re from qualified voters.

Current state law allows private possession of a small amount of marijuana. The initiative, if passed, would allow Alaskans over the age of 21 to keep up to one ounce of marijuana and to possess up to six plants, including three flowering.

But it also would legalize the sale of marijuana and marijuana accessories in licensed shops.

Washington Post Writers Group columnist Ruth Marcus wrote recently that the problem with legalizing marijuana is that it is a dangerous drug and as such is a public health concern. She quoted the American Medical Association, which seems like a fairly reliable source on this matter. Undoubtedly, doctors see the results of marijuana use in clinics and hospital emergency rooms.

The AMA identifies marijuana as the most common drug involved in “drugged driving,” and points out that it is a gateway drug to other substance-use disorders. The AMA says that in youth in particular, it causes persistent impairments in neurocognitive performance and IQ, and its use is associated with increased rates of anxiety, mood and psychotic-thought disorders, according to Marcus.

With all of Alaska’s efforts to improve the lives of Alaskans, especially its youth - particularly when it comes to education funding - the last thing the state needs is to be dumbing down its people. Marijuana made more accessible and commercially sold will increase the likelihood of young Alaskans’ brains and behavior being short-changed before they are fully developed. It also will increase the cost of state government, with the likelihood of oversight responsibilities.

A marijuana initiative will increase health care and government costs. Even in the best of economic times, that’s not fiscally responsible.


Jan. 9, 2014

Anchorage Daily News: 24/7 Breathalyzer makes sense for repeat DUI offenders

In Alaska’s long struggle with alcohol abuse, we’ve learned that we need to confront the problem on multiple fronts — education, treatment and counseling, tough enforcement and effective alternatives to jail time.

For repeat DUI offenders, being married to a 24/7 Breathalyzer covers several of those fronts.

That’s the message in Kyle Hopkins’ Jan. 5 story “Aid to sobriety,” which examines the effectiveness of alcohol testing machines in keeping offenders on the straight and narrow.

The story focused on Larry Berg, awaiting trial on his fourth drunken driving charge. When the machine’s siren sounds at his Anchorage home, Berg has just minutes to blow into a plastic tube. If he blows clean, he keeps a measure of freedom and his livelihood. If he blows positive — or skips a test — he gets a house call and goes directly to jail.

This monitoring is constant, and, if a bill proposed by Sen. John Coghill becomes law, will become widespread throughout Alaska. Similar measures have proven effective in other states. The need to test twice a day, or even more frequently, is a regimen difficult to game and a structure that alcohol abusers need.

Further, it keeps offenders out of expensive jail care and places the cost of testing on them. It makes economic sense, and evidence suggests it’s more effective than prison time in keeping people sober.

It’s not just DUI offenders that the 24/7 monitor can change. People convicted of child neglect and domestic violence fueled by alcohol may have a better chance to turn their lives around and keep their families with such relentless help.

Coghill’s proposal is a work in progress likely to be refined in legislative hearings. But so far he’s won bipartisan support for measures like required monitoring for two-time DUI offenders as a way to stay out of jail or even have limited driving privileges provided they stay sober.

Staying out of jail or keeping custody of your children is a powerful incentive to stay sober — as is building a record of sobriety and rehabilitation while awaiting trial. And the offenders know that behind that monitor, the state keeps the hammer of hard justice close at hand.

Putting testing centers in villages may take more time and money but we shouldn’t let that delay expansion of the program in Alaska’s cities. Coghill’s bill to widen its use is good work.

The machines will be well worth the cost if they make Alaska a little more sober.


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