Legislature(2005 - 2006)
2005-01-21 House JournalFull 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." 2005-01-21 House Journal Page 0127 was read the first time and referred to the Judiciary and Finance Committees. 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 2005-01-21 House Journal Page 0128 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 prosecutions. 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. 2005-01-21 House Journal Page 0129 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 2005-01-21 House Journal Page 0130 "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, /s/ Frank H. Murkowski Governor"