Legislature(2005 - 2006)

2005-01-21 House Journal

Full Journal pdf

2005-01-21                     House Journal                      Page 0126
HB 96                                                                                             
HOUSE BILL NO. 96 by the House Rules Committee by request of                                        
the Governor, entitled:                                                                             
     "An Act making findings relating to marijuana use and                                          
     possession; relating to marijuana and misconduct involving a                                   
     controlled substance; and providing for an effective date."                                    

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was read the first time and referred to the Judiciary and Finance                                   
The following fiscal note(s) apply:                                                                 
1.  Zero, Dept. of Health & Social Services                                                         
2.  Zero, Dept. of Law                                                                              
3.  Zero, Dept. of Public Safety                                                                    
4.  Fiscal, Dept. of Administration                                                                 
The Governor's transmittal letter dated January 20, 2005, follows:                                  
"Dear Speaker Harris:                                                                               
Under the authority of art. III, sec. 18, of the Alaska Constitution, I am                          
transmitting a bill relating to marijuana.  I believe it is time for the                            
Alaska Legislature to take a stand and debunk the myth that marijuana                               
is a harmless recreational drug.                                                                    
It is very troubling to me that our young people have access to the                                 
drug and are using it.  In recent years, Alaska had the highest rate in                             
the nation of persons over the age of 12 trying marijuana for the first                             
time.  Approximately two-thirds of these new smokers were children                                  
ages 12 - 17.  This same age group of children made up over half of                                 
the state's 363 treatment admissions in 2003 for marijuana abuse.                                   
Many more go untreated each year.                                                                   
The problem is particularly great for Alaska Natives.  In 2003, the                                 
self-reported rate of current use for Alaska Native students in the ninth                           
grade (age 15) was 36.96 percent, nearly three times the rate for non-                              
Native Alaska students.  For tenth graders, the rate of current use by                              
Alaska Native students was 41.77 percent.  Alaska Natives also made                                 
up approximately 35 percent of the statewide treatment admissions for                               
marijuana abuse in 2003.  The numbers of our youths trying marijuana                                
for the first time and entering treatment foretells a dim future if                                 
nothing is done.                                                                                    
Although marijuana smoke contains hundreds of substances, some of                                   
them carcinogenic, the principal psychoactive ingredient is delta-9                                 
tetrahydrocannabinol (commonly known as THC).  In the 1960's and                                    

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70's, marijuana was primarily used by college students and "hippies,"                               
and the average THC content was less than one percent.  But today,                                  
the average THC content in marijuana is six times that level, at 6.4                                
percent.  Drug dealers in Alaska have turned indoor marijuana                                       
growing into a science and marijuana grown here has been found with                                 
a THC content in excess of 20 percent.  Our young people thus have                                  
access to, and are using, marijuana that is a potent hallucinogenic.                                
In 1975, the Alaska Supreme Court studied marijuana and concluded,                                  
in Ravin v. State, that the scientific evidence on its effects did not                              
justify making it a crime for adults to possess small amounts in                                    
private.  More recently, the Alaska Supreme Court has shown an                                      
unwillingness to reconsider the latest scientific evidence on the                                   
harmful effects of marijuana.  A rational evaluation of marijuana's                                 
harmful effects must occur, and the Legislature should do that -- not                               
the courts.  This bill would provide a forum for the Legislature to hear                            
expert testimony on the effects of marijuana and to make findings that                              
the courts can rely on in cases where marijuana is an issue.                                        
In addition to educating the Legislature, courts, and the public about                              
the harmful effects of marijuana, this bill would deter possession and                              
use of marijuana by increasing criminal penalties for certain types of                              
possession.  It also would provide a fair and efficient process for                                 
determining the usable weight of live marijuana plants in criminal                                  
Current law makes it a class B felony to give or sell marijuana, and                                
schedule IVA and VA controlled substances, to someone age 18 or                                     
younger, but only if the dealer is at least three years older.  Right now,                          
if a 19-year-old gives a small amount of marijuana to a 17-year-old, it                             
is the lowest level misdemeanor offense.  When the law classifies such                              
conduct as such a low-level offense, it provides no deterrence for                                  
young adults.                                                                                       
Marijuana is particularly harmful for young users, and it should be a                               
serious crime to give or sell marijuana to someone under age 21, no                                 
matter how old the "dealer" may be.  Expanding the current class B                                  
felony penalty for providing marijuana, and schedule IVA and VA                                     
controlled substances, to someone under age 21, regardless of the age                               
difference between the user and the dealer, would allow the Superior                                
Court to punish adults who supply our youths.                                                       

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The bill also would make it a class C felony (the lowest felony level)                              
to possess four ounces or more of marijuana, compared to current law,                               
which reserves this felony level only for those who possess a whole                                 
pound or more.  Four ounces of high-THC marijuana has a street value                                
of up to $2,000.  Given the increase in the value and potency of                                    
marijuana, it is appropriate to apply higher penalties to possession of                             
this amount.                                                                                        
The bill also would adjust misdemeanor penalties related to marijuana.                              
The bill would make it a class A misdemeanor to possess one ounce or                                
more of marijuana, as compared with current law, which allows                                       
misdemeanor penalties even for those who possess from a half-pound                                  
to up to one pound of marijuana.  The bill would reserve the lowest                                 
misdemeanor penalties (class B misdemeanor), for possession of less                                 
than one ounce of marijuana, which is still a significant amount, both                              
in dosage and cost.                                                                                 
The bill also tackles marijuana and driving, which even the Supreme                                 
Court in Ravin recognized as a potentially serious problem back in                                  
1975.  Unlike alcohol, there is no effective way for law enforcement                                
officers to quickly and easily test the amount of marijuana in a                                    
person's blood, breath, or urine.  Thus, the best way to deter using                                
marijuana and driving is to prohibit it in motor vehicles.  This bill                               
would make it a class A misdemeanor for the driver of a motor vehicle                               
to possess any amount while driving or operating a motor vehicle.                                   
This is the same level of offense as driving under the influence,                                   
although this bill does not require mandatory penalties as required for                             
driving under the influence (DUI) offenses.  The bill also would make                               
it a class B misdemeanor if a passenger in a motor vehicle possesses                                
any marijuana, or if the driver allows a passenger to do so.                                        
Finally, the bill would provide a fair and efficient process for                                    
determining the usable weight of live marijuana plants.  Under current                              
statutory law, to determine the weight of marijuana from a growing                                  
plant, the law enforcement officers must harvest, dry, and process the                              
marijuana just like a marijuana grower would.  This is required for two                             
reasons.  First, the plants cannot be allowed to remain damp, or a mold                             
will form that not only destroys the evidence, but is also dangerous to                             
the officers handling the plants.  Second, this processing is statutorily                           
required because the plant can only be weighed after it has been                                    

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"reduced to its commonly used form."  (AS 11.71.080.)  The obvious                                  
problem with this statute is that it forces the law enforcement officers                            
to operate large marijuana drying and processing facilities at great                                
expense and effort.  The plants must be spread out and dried, and then                              
the law enforcement officers must begin the laborious task of                                       
separating the less usable stalks from the leaves, buds, and flowers.                               
Even then, there are often arguments in court about whether the law                                 
enforcement officers correctly processed the plants, or whether they                                
left in too many stalks.  This bill solves the problem by allowing the                              
law enforcement officers to weigh the unprocessed harvested plants,                                 
and declares that one-sixth of that weight is used for determining what                             
level of crime is involved.  The one-sixth ratio was determined by                                  
experimentation of the Alaska State Troopers, and represents an                                     
average of several test batches of live marijuana plants that were dried                            
and processed to their "commonly used form."                                                        
I urge your prompt and favorable action on this measure.                                            
                                Sincerely yours,                                                    
                                Frank H. Murkowski