After lengthy debate Monday, the Alaska Senate shot down an amendment that would have made marijuana concentrates illegal in two years and passed a marijuana crime bill along to the House.
The bill, SB 30, passed the Senate by a vote of 17-3. The bill addresses marijuana and Alaska's criminal statutes, and was introduced as part of the response to the voter initiative approved in November that legalized recreational use of marijuana in Alaska.
The bill has changed substantially as it has made its way through the Senate. The version passed Monday afternoon was crafted in the Senate Finance Committee. Voting against the bill were three Anchorage Democrats: Sens. Bill Wielechowski and Johnny Ellis and Senate Minority Leader Berta Gardner.
Among other aspects, the bill continues to list marijuana as a controlled substance under state law. Possession of 16 ounces or more or 25 plants would be a felony in the current version of the bill. Giving marijuana to a person under 21 would be a misdemeanor. The bill defines an open marijuana container and sets up penalties regarding open containers of marijuana in a vehicle.
The bill also bans marijuana businesses in the unorganized borough. Should a community in the unorganized borough want to establish a marijuana business, the town would need to opt back in.? Large swaths of land in Alaska, mostly off the road system, are in the unorganized borough, where roughly 81,000 Alaskans lived as of 2008.
After lengthy debate, an amendment introduced by Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, that would have made marijuana concentrates illegal in two years was shot down 14-6. Voting in favor of the ban were Sens. John Coghill, R-North Pole, Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, Donny Olson, D-Golovin, Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, and Kelly.
In support of his amendment, Kelly spoke at length about marijuana concentrates. Kelly said voters were not aware that they were voting to legalize marijuana concentrates when they approved legalization in November. Voters "wanted the leafy stuff," Kelly said, not hash oil, edibles or other types of concentrates.
Kelly cited Colorado's experience with concentrates, saying problems were mostly due to marijuana edibles. He gave a hypothetical example of going over to "weird uncle Eddie's house," where a marijuana cookie would be left out, and a child would eat the cookie.
"It is not a stretch to say that (children) will die" thanks to marijuana concentrates, Kelly said.
Numerous legislators weighed in during the debate over the amendment. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, noted that marijuana concentrates were the subject of at least 40 news articles leading into the election, and that numerous public hearings had been held, many of which "devolved" into conversations about concentrates. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, argued that regulation was the best way to keep products safe and protect children.
Two other amendments, one introduced by Wielechowski and a second by Gardner, were also voted down. The bill now heads to the House for consideration.