JUNEAU — Alaska lawmakers are considering a new approach to decriminalizing and regulating marijuana.
That approach, which was introduced in a Senate Judiciary Committee bill Monday, would remove marijuana, hash and hash oil from the state's controlled substance statutes. The 91-page bill would add the drug to laws addressing impairment and misconduct.
As of Feb. 24, adults 21 years and older will be able to possess up to an ounce of marijuana under a ballot issue passed in November. Lawmakers have been working on a bill that accomplishes that, and also updates other related laws.
The prior version of the bill was criticized for providing a defense in court if one was prosecuted for possessing marijuana, rather than legalizing it outright, as the initiative had specified.
In a written statement, marijuana legalization advocate Tim Hinterberger said the latest version is a "huge improvement" but still does not match the voter initiative entirely.
Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, said the newest bill allows adults to possess up to 4 ounces of marijuana. The initiative legalized possession of up to 1 ounce, but a previous court decision allowed possession at home of up to four ounces based on privacy rights.
The draft largely treats marijuana like alcohol, Coghill said.
It outlines a wide range of situations where marijuana use is still illegal, including on ski lifts and while driving, and prohibits adults from giving it to youth. The draft also adds marijuana to language revolving around dependency — nurses can lose their licenses for habitually abusing marijuana, and individuals can receive treatment for marijuana abuse.
Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, said that because marijuana can be medicinal, it might not be appropriate to apply all of the alcohol prohibitions to marijuana. He also said the penalties for youth possessing marijuana may need to be reviewed.
Committee members also noted that the bill would not address retail sales, and those will remain prohibited on Feb. 24.
According to the timeline in the ballot initiative, the state has nine months from Feb. 24 to write regulations for the retail and commercial aspects of the industry.
Gov. Bill Walker's administration plans to introduce another bill that would create a marijuana board this week. Such a board would be responsible for regulating a new commercial marijuana industry and would share resources with the Alcoholic Beverage Control board.
Committee chair Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, said the committee will go through the bill in more detail and take public testimony on Wednesday.