Legislators Agree to Overhaul Marijuana Bill With Controversial “Defense” Provision

Law-makers in Juneau are overhauling a bill dealing with the first phase phase of full marijuana legalization in Alaska. Anchorage Republican Gabrielle LeDoux co-chairs the joint Judiciary committee that met for the second time Wednesday, and opted not to move Senate Bill 30 or the House versions introduced last week.

“We’re not gonna do anything more,” LeDoux said at the start of the hearing, “until these bills come back from legislative drafting in a form that we feel reflects the will of the people.”

The most controversial part of Senate Bill 30 was its mechanism for decriminalization. The  defense provision offered a legal defense for anyone brought to court for possessing an ounce or less of marijuana after a change in the legal status next month, which critics testified was both confusing and cumbersome.

Most of Wednesday’s testimony came from Cynthia Franklin, head of the Alcoholic Beverages Control Board, which is tasked with overseeing regulation as different components of a burgeoning marijuana industry are decriminalized. Franklin told the committee marijuana needs its own board for oversight. Rather than tacking on more duties to the ABC Board and trying to balance fair representation from both industry and public health advocates, she advises a separate body that’s still housed under the state’s Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.

“We really don’t have marijuana regulators standing in a closet somewhere waiting to be just brought out and placed on this board,” Franklin explained.

“This is a new industry, it is a new substance to regulate in a regulatory manner versus a criminal enforcement manner,” she continued. “And I believe that the individuals who have the most experience in the kinds of problems that can come up with licensing individuals in a business setting to deal with a dangerous substance are the very people we have on our staff here.”

Franklin believes Alaska has a good opportunity to learn from lessons on legalization in Colorado, and proactively legislate regulations on the budding industry.

Members of the Judiciary committee are hoping to pass legislation that gives guidance to law enforcement and the public before February 24th.