ACLU files to block marijuana law

June 05, 2006

Peter Porco, Associated Press

The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska filed suit in Juneau Superior Court on Monday challenging the latest effort by Gov. Frank Murkowski and the Republican-led Legislature to outlaw all marijuana use in the state.


The lawsuit, which had been expected, targets a newly enacted state law that criminalizes the personal possession by adults of small quantities of marijuana in their homes.

"With the stroke of a pen, the governor has signed away Alaskans' right to be free from unwarranted government intrusion into the home," Michael Macleod-Ball, the ACLU-Alaska's executive director, said in a written statement.

"Is marijuana so dangerous that it justifies restricting a fundamental right? The state thinks it's yes; we think it's no," Macleod-Ball said.

Along with the lawsuit, the ACLU is asking a Juneau Superior Court judge to block the law immediately with a temporary order.

Macleod-Ball said a hearing on the temporary order had been set by Judge Patricia Collins for Thursday morning.

Murkowski signed House Bill 149 into law Friday. It makes possession of 4 ounces of pot a felony and less than 4 ounces but more than an ounce a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail. Less than one ounce is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail.

Several state court decisions over 30 years have concluded the privacy provision of the Alaska Constitution protects adults who possess four ounces or less of the drug within their homes.

An Alaska voters' initiative in 1990 attempted to criminalize all possession of marijuana, but in 2004, state appeals courts reaffirmed the privacy-protected personal use as constitutional.

Murkowski made it one of his highest priorities during the past legislative session to craft a law that would survive court scrutiny. He has said state lawyers will be able to convince judges that today's drug is more potent and destructive than when they last examined the issue.

The ACLU-Alaska lawsuit represents two anonymous individuals, Jane Doe and Jane Roe, who use marijuana in their homes, the civil rights group said.

The Senate added Murkowski's anti-marijuana provisions to a bill that focused on methamphetamine. The House initially rejected that addition but eventually passed the combination bill.

The new law does not affect the so-called medical marijuana law, passed by voters and currently in effect, said Mark Morones, spokesman for the Department of Law. The ACLU says it could affect the legal right to medical use.

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