Under a proposed bill circulating in the Legislature, marijuana would no longer be a controlled substance in Alaska, while new misdemeanors and fines would be created for some marijuana misconduct.
An updated draft of Senate Bill 30 was reviewed Wednesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Its counterpart, the identical House Bill 79, was heard simultaneously in the House Judiciary Committee.
"Marijuana will be treated as a regulated substance under Alaska law" and would no longer be a controlled substance in Alaska, Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, said of the bill revisions.
When introduced in late January, the first draft of the bill meant to clarify Alaska's criminal marijuana statutes added confusion to already convoluted marijuana laws. Marijuana remained a controlled substance under the first draft, to the concern of legislators and supporters of the ballot initiative.
A few days later, meetings on the bill were postponed until drafters completed a version that better reflects "the will of the people," Anchorage Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux told Alaska Dispatch News.
Originally introduced as a nine-page bill, the version discussed Wednesday had ballooned to 88 pages.
Much of the bill amends statutes in order to separate marijuana from controlled substances – for instance, one amendment states employers may test for alcohol impairment, drugs or marijuana impairment.
The bill would also create new crimes for misconduct involving marijuana.
Misdemeanor offenses could be issued for:
- Selling any amount of marijuana without a license;
- Possessing more than six plants (more than 25 plants would be a class A misdemeanor);
- Transporting more than 1 ounce of usable marijuana;
- Giving marijuana to someone under 21;
- Manufacturing marijuana concentrates or extract using a volatile or explosive gas.
The bill also outlines violations punishable with up to a $300 fine if marijuana is grown in public view, if a minor under 18 possesses marijuana, or if someone under 21 enters a marijuana business.
A violation punishable by a $100 fine would be for a person 21 years or older who consumes marijuana in public, or someone between 18 and 20 who possesses, uses or displays marijuana.
Overall, the bill was met with support from both the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska and industry group the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation.
"As a whole, the latest draft is a bill that we can support," wrote Timothy Hinterberger, chair of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska.
A major sticking point, however, was the term "not withstanding any other provision of law," which was not included in the revised bill.
Rachelle Yeung, a legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project, testified that removing the phrase "violates voters' intent."
"Not all statutes … will be immediately identified to be consistent" with the new marijuana law. Actions may be interpreted as being illegal because the statute was not amended, she testified.
Hilary Martin, counsel for the Legislature's legal services department, said the phrase "introduces uncertainty" into the law, and confusion surrounding "what is or is not now applicable."
The committee also discussed whether minor consumption of marijuana should stay on a person's public court records.
Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, said he was torn between holding minors accountable for their actions and not getting caught in a stigma that could negatively affect job prospects.
Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, said by putting minor consumption cases on public court records, "you're holding them accountable for the rest of their lives" and not recognizing that young people make mistakes.
Both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees would be reviewing the bill further on Friday. McGuire expressed hope SB 30 would be passed to the Finance Committee on that day.
Starting Tuesday, recreational marijuana use will be legal in Alaska. People can possess and transport up to 1 ounce of marijuana. Alaskans can grow up to six plants, three of which may be flowering at one time, in their households.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing