Thirty-five years after landmark Alaska Supreme Court decision, Alaska’s marijuana law is still contested
Last update: June 15, 2010
On April 13, Alaska lost a champion for sensible marijuana policy when Irwin Ravin passed away at the age of 70. Ravin was the plaintiff — and, along with his law partner Robert Wagstaff, one of the attorneys — in the landmark 1975 Alaska Supreme Court case that ruled that although there was no state constitutional right to possess, ingest, purchase, or sell marijuana, the state constitution’s right to privacy included a right to privacy in one’s home, giving Alaskans the right to personal possession in their homes. Since then, lawmakers and reformers have been fighting over the implications of that case, Ravin v. Alaska.
In 2006, the legislature and the executive branch attempted to re-criminalize marijuana legislatively. The legislature passed and then-Gov. Frank Murkowski (R) signed House Bill 149, which among other things sought to re-criminalize marijuana possession in one’s home. That attempt was challenged in court, but the issue has not been decided on its merits.
On June 5, 2006, the ACLU of Alaska filed suit against the new law. Among other things, House Bill 149 effectively re-criminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults in the privacy of their homes.
The ACLU's complaint alleged that this violated Alaskans’ state constitutional right to privacy. The Juneau Superior Court agreed, and it struck down the portion of the new law that made it illegal to possess less than one ounce of marijuana in the privacy of one's home. The Superior Court ruled that the new law conflicted with the Alaska Supreme Court’s Ravin decision.
The state of Alaska has appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court, which ruled in April 2009 that because no one had been arrested under the new law, the case was not “ripe” for decision.
In 2005, the Marijuana Policy Project filed suit against the Alaska Public Office Commission (APOC) for refusing to investigate a complaint filed against Deputy Drug Czar Scott Burns and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). The complaint stemmed from the failure of Burns’s office to file campaign finance reports showing how much money it spent opposing a 2004 initiative to allow marijuana regulation. When APOC refused to investigate, MPP filed suit in Alaska state court to force APOC to carry out its duties. On February 9, 2007, Superior Court Judge Peter Michalski of the Third District in Anchorage granted APOC's motion for summary judgment and denied MPP's motion for the same. The court ruled that federal agencies are not subject to Alaska campaign finance law because the legislature had not specifically mandated such when they wrote the current laws. In short, if the Alaska legislature had intended the federal government to be subject to state reporting laws, it would have said so. MPP did not appeal.
Alaska has always been on the forefront of marijuana reform. MPP's polling shows that 56% of Alaskans now say that possession of small amounts of marijuana should be legal. Additionally, polls in both 2002 and 2006 show public support for Alaska's medical marijuana law at an overwhelming 74%. As a residents of a state that has shown time and again that it believes in the personal freedom of its citizens, each and every one of you are in a unique position to effect real change. You can start by writing to your legislators and asking them to introduce legislation that would tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol.
If you have questions about marijuana policy reform in Alaska, please contact AMRC at firstname.lastname@example.org.