Alaska’s marijuana initiative likely to take effect without a new law
Though there have been dozens of committee hearings on regulating marijuana since the start of the legislative session, it doesn’t look like the Legislature will make its Feb. 24 deadline.
The hope was to have a law on the books decriminalizing marijuana before the date set by the initiative that voters passed in November.
“No we’re not going to meet that deadline,” said Sen. John Coghill at a Senate Majority news conference. “You’re not going to get a bill through the Legislature as rapidly as that.”
Coghill serves on the Senate Judiciary committee, which has been working on Senate Bill 30, a measure that spells out the circumstances in which pot use is legal, as well as illegal.
“We’ve been trying to figure out how to align our statutes, where it’s always been a controlled substance,” said Coghill. “Now it’s going to be a regulated substance.”
Coghill says the committee tried to narrowly craft the legislation but just couldn’t reconcile it with existing laws. He believes a final draft of the bill probably won’t come up for a vote until the first or second week of March.
In the meantime, Coghill says the Alcohol Beverage Control Board, the state agency tasked with regulating marijuana, will hold an emergency meeting at 7 a.m. on Feb. 24, to address a number of unresolved issues.
Cynthia Franklin, director of the ABC Board, says the initiative will take effect, regardless of whether the Legislature passes a law or not. It allows adults to possess 1 ounce of marijuana, or six plants.
“Those two are legal,” said Franklin. “But you still can’t buy it. You still can’t sell it.”
Nor can you grow marijuana or make products from it, because all of these activities require licensing. Franklin says the state has until May of next year to set up a licensing system.
When the ABC Board meets next, it will likely address issues like the initiative’s ban on public use of marijuana. Franklin says the definition of “public space” needs to be clarified – otherwise questions such as whether it’s legal to smoke pot on your front porch may arise.
Coghill says there are other legal bugs that need to be worked out, such as the definition of legal possession as 1 ounce of marijuana.
“But within that 1 ounce could be an ounce of hash oil. It could be a little baggy that’s an ounce, or it could be hash oil that’s an ounce,” Coghill said. “While a baggy might get four people high, an ounce of hash could get a small town high. So you have to think through, how do we regulate that?”
Sen. Bert Stedman challenged Coghill on his comparison.
“Sen. Coghill was being facetious when he said it would make the whole town high,” said Stedman.
“I said ‘small’ town,” said Coghill.
“A real small town,” Stedman quipped.
On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary committee resumes work on the marijuana bill decriminalizing pot. Coghill hopes it moves out of committee by Friday.
The bill’s next stop will be the Senate Finance committee, and then onto the Senate floor for a vote.
The House has a similar bill working its way through committees.
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