By Matt Buxton
JUNEAU — With legalized marijuana a month away, lawmakers are hoping to fast track legislation they hope will clear up legal gray areas.
On Friday, the Senate Judiciary Committee introduced Senate Bill 30 to address underage consumption, what constitutes a public place (because public consumption of marijuana will still be illegal) and addresses driving with marijuana.
Ballot Measure 2, which passed by wide margins in the Fairbanks and Juneau areas, makes marijuana possession, use and growing legal when the law officially goes into effect on Feb. 24, 2015. Commercial production and sales will follow next year.
North Pole Republican Sen. John Coghill, the vice-chair of the Judiciary Committee, said the bill is intended to give law enforcement clarity with how to enforce the changes. He said the goal is to get the bill passed before Feb. 24.
“This (bill) deals with what we are immediately implementing,” he said. “We have to at least give clarity to the people who will hold people accountable. We would like to get this to the governor as soon as possible.”
The bill creates laws against a person younger than 21 consuming or possessing marijuana, makes it a crime to give marijuana to a minor, and adds marijuana to the open container laws that already apply for transporting alcohol in a motor vehicle.
It also ties the laws against public consumption of marijuana to existing definition of a public place, which covers anywhere the general public has access. That definition would include a private business open to the public, like a bar.
But there are also a number of points — both big and small — supporters of legalized marijuana see with the bill.
“We’ve got a shopping list of concerns with that bill,” said Bruce Schulte, the spokesman of the Alaska-based Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation. “I understand that they’re on a tremendous time crunch and I think (Judiciary Committee Chair) Sen. Lesil McGuire’s office has the right idea in mind. They want to get it into the queue to get things in place and that’s what’s driving this.”
His biggest complaint is instead of repealing existing laws against marijuana, the bill creates a number of criteria that would serve as a defense to those existing crimes. It would mean people could potentially be arrested and charged for possessing or using marijuana in situations Ballot Measure 2 makes legal, Schulte said.
“It’s guilty until proven innocent instead of innocent until proven guilty,” he said. “If Senate Bill 30 were to play out and go through exactly as written, then law enforcement could go to any marijuana business and arrest them on the spot and let it play out in court. That’s the antithesis of it of what Ballot Measure 2 was.”
But both Schulte and Coghill acknowledge the bill introduced on Friday is a starting point for the legislation, and it could change dramatically by the time it reaches the governor’s desk.
Coghill, along with many members of the Legislature, was an outspoken opponents of legalizing marijuana, but said he putting effort into the bill and hopes to get it right with voters.
“Why are we trying to work with this? Because we have a huge respect for the voters of Alaska,” he said. “We have voted it in and we’re addressing public safety.”
The bill is one of many introduced relating to marijuana this session.
A bill by Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, would delay regulations for marijuana concentrates for one year. Another bill by the House Community and Regional Affairs committee would clean up language dealing with local control and regulation of marijuana.
The bill dealing with regulatory work for commercial marijuana growing and sales, including likely the formation of the Marijuana Control Board, will be introduced later this session, Coghill said.
The Judiciary Committee has scheduled meetings on Senate Bill 30 during each of its meetings next week, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Public testimony on the bill is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Jan. 30. People can testify by attending a local Legislative Information Office.