On 4/20, Alaska House passes bill on marijuana records, underage possession

A jar of marijuana buds is seen at the Stoney Moose in Ketchikan. (KRBD photo by Leila Kheiry)

The Alaska House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday to change how the state looks at two aspects of simple marijuana possession.

First, House Bill 246 would make past records of marijuana possession unavailable to the general public in searches of court cases.

And second, going forward, it would change the charge of marijuana possession for 18, 19 and 20 year olds from a misdemeanor crime to a violation, more like a speeding ticket.

Alaska legalized recreational use of marijuana for those 21 and older in 2015.

The House held a final debate Wednesday — April 20 — before voting on the bill.

“I find it poignant that today, being 4/20, and we’re discussing marijuana,” said Rep. Ken McCarty, R-Eagle River, referring to marijuana slang.

The bill’s supporters say past convictions for something that is now legal shouldn’t be a barrier to opportunities like employment or housing.

Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, D-Sitka, co-sponsored the bill.

“To some extent, we’re sort of in an equivalent situation, it’s like 1935, prohibition on alcohol ended seven years ago,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “And to what extent as a society are we really deeply concerned about whether people were drinking in the 1920s?”

Those who might be concerned are potential employers, said Nikiski Republican Rep. Ben Carpenter, one of the bill’s several opponents.

“I think it’s important for the public to be able to tell whether it’s a speeding violation, or whether it’s a marijuana conviction, that somebody was or was not following the law in the past. That matters to an employer,” Carpenter said.

Kreiss-Tomkins said the bill would only affect the most public-facing court records, not more in-depth background checks some employers conduct.

After about an hour of debate, the House passed the bill by a vote of 30 to 8. It now goes to the state Senate.

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Casey Grove is the host of Alaska News Nightly and a general assignment reporter at Alaska Public Media with an emphasis on crime and courts. Reach him at cgrove@alaskapublic.org.

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