ACLU sues Alaska over state's new marijuana law
Juneau, Alaska - The American Civil Liberties Union sued the state of Alaska today over a new law penalizing marijuana possession for personal use in the home.
The civil liberties group alleges the new law is an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.
"Is marijuana so dangerous that it justifies restricting a fundamental right? The state thinks it's yes, we think it's no," said Michael Macleod-Ball, executive director of the ACLU of Alaska.
The lawsuit also claims the law allows prosecution of people who use marijuana for medical purposes, which the Alaska Department of Law disputes.
Along with the lawsuit, the ACLU is asking a Juneau Superior Court judge to block the law. Macleod-Ball said a hearing was not immediately set.
The law, which was signed by Gov. Frank Murkowski on Friday, is an attempt to reverse a 30-year-old Alaska Supreme Court decision called Ravin vs. Alaska in which the court ruled the privacy rights of Alaskans trumped the harm the drug could cause.
Later court decisions set a legal limit of 4 ounces that an individual can keep in the home.
Murkowski for the past two years has been pushing through a bill to counter that ruling, understanding that the final decision would be up to the courts.
Under the new law, pot possession of 4 ounces or more is a felony. Possession of 1-4 ounces is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail; less than 1 ounce is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail.
"The issue of marijuana appears destined to be resolved by the courts," said Department of Law spokesman Mark Morones. "Now that there's some science behind it, we know a lot more about it now and its potency now than when the Ravin decision was decided."Gearing up for the court fight, Murkowski and the Legislature included in the bill a set of findings meant to prove that marijuana has increased in potency since the original Supreme Court decision, and therefore has become more dangerous.
Opponents submitted material supporting their position, but the material was never considered by the Legislature, nor did any of it end up in the findings, according to the lawsuit.
"There was all this sort of reefer madness stuff coming from the government, saying this is crazy and we've got to restrict this," Macleod-Ball said. "There was misinformation and disinformation because the state was trying to make a point that it's more dangerous."
Joining the ACLU as a plaintiff is an anonymous 54-year-old woman referred to as Jane Doe who uses marijuana to treat pain caused by a neurological illness called reflex sympathetic dystrophy, according to the lawsuit.
She and another plaintiff, a 42-year-old woman referred to as Jane Roe, won't list their real names because they fear criminal prosecution under the new law, the lawsuit says.
Jane Doe and the ACLU claim there is no exception under the new law for medical marijuana patients. Morones said medical marijuana users are protected under the new law and will not be affected.
By Matt Volz