Juneau, AK: An Alaska Superior Court judge this week struck down provisions of a new state law seeking to criminalize the possession of small amounts of cannabis in the privacy of one’s home. The law, enacted in June, redefined minor marijuana possession as a criminal offense punishable by jail time, and defined the possession of more than four ounces of cannabis as a felony offense.
The Alaska ACLU filed suit last month to block enforcement of the law, arguing that it violates the privacy clause of the state constitution, which provides that “the right of the people to privacy is recognized and shall not be infringed.” In a 1975 Alaska state Supreme Court ruling (Ravin v State), justices determined that this constitutional provision encompassed the possession and use of small amounts of cannabis in the home.
Superior Court judge Patricia Collins ruled Monday that the Alaska legislature lacks the authority to override the Supreme Court’s 1975 decision. “The Alaska Supreme Court has repeatedly and consistently characterized the Ravin decision as announcing a constitutional limitation of the government’s authority to enact legislation prohibiting the possession of marijuana in the privacy of one¹s home,” she determined. “That decision is the law until and unless the Supreme Court takes contrary action.”
Collin’s ruling strikes down sections of the new law criminalizing the possession of one ounce or less of cannabis, but leaves in place measures prohibiting the possession of greater amounts. Under the 2006 law, possession of one to four ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.
“The Alaska Court of Appeals has held that the legislature has the power to set reasonable limits on the amount of marijuana that people can possess for personal use in their homes and that such regulation does not conflict with Ravin,” Collins determined.
Lawyers for the Alaska attorney general’s office are expected to appeal Collin’s ruling.
In 2004, the Alaska Supreme Court rejected a petition by the attorney general’s office to reconsider a September 2003 Court of Appeals decision that the possession of marijuana by adults within the home is constitutionally protected activity.
Governor Frank Murkowksi (R), who strongly advocated for the new law, has argued that Ravin should no longer apply in Alaska because cannabis may pose greater health and safety risks today than it did in 1975.
For more information, please contact Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel, at (202) 483-5500. Full text of the Superior Court ruling, ACLU et al. v State of Alaska, are online at: http://www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/decrim/261121g120060711.html.
Additional information, including an interview with the ACLU’s Allen Hopper, is available on the July 12 NORML Audiostash at http://www.normlaudiostash.com/id120.htm