Marijuana laws missing key language

Marijuana for sale at a dispensary in California. (Photo: Dank Depot via Flickr Creative Commons)
Marijuana for sale at a dispensary in California. (Photo: Dank Depot via Flickr Creative Commons)

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Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott signed the state marijuana regulations into law last month (01-22-16) and the state will begin accepting license applications on February 24th. But there’s a wrench in the works: the original bill fails to properly authorize background checks.

Before the Marijuana Control Board can issue licenses, the FBI requires a background check of each applicant. It’s a way of determining if the applicant has received a felony conviction in the last five years in another state. If the answer is yes, no license may be awarded. But the original bill is missing the enabling language that would allow the FBI to run names and fingerprints through their database.

Cynthia Franklin, the director of the Marijuana Control Board, said that in order to award that power, it will take a state statute.

“The FBI requires an enabling statute if you want to run a name through the national criminal history database and a regulation is not enough,” Franklin said.

The Alaska Department of Public Safety notified the Marijuana Control Board of this oversight last fall. She explains the FBI-enabling language should have been inserted into HB 123, which created the Marijuana Control Board. It was brought during a floor amendment, but ultimately didn’t make it into the final language.

“So it was discovered well after session,” Franklin said. “They missed a spot.

Furthermore, the Department of Public Safety is missing it’s necessary authorization to do background checks, as it does for liquor licenses.

Franklin says that in order for licenses to be issued in June, the legislature must fill these legal loopholes fast.

“If those things do not happen this session, we will be in a very sticky place because we will have a statute that says we can’t issue licenses to individuals who have a felony conviction in the last five years. But we will only be able to check Alaska histories and not national histories,” she said.

To close this security gap, the Senate Rules Committee is interested in rewriting HB 75, a marijuana “clean-up” bill from last session and folding in the necessary statutory language.

The bill was originally drafted in House Community and Regional Affairs Standing Committee, chaired by Representative Cathy Tilton. An aid for Tilton, Heath Hilyard, told KCAW by e-mail that the bill may see movement on the Senate floor next week.