The Drug Policy Digest

Tuesday, September 02, 2003
Marijuana Again Legal in Alaska Homes, Court Says
Possession for Personal Use in Home is Protected by Alaska's Right to Privacy - Remains Illegal Under Federal Law

An article in the August 29th issue of the Juneau Daily News
says that a ruling by the Alaska Court of Appeals (a state court) has re-legalized the use of marijuana by adults in private homes.

The court handed down its decision Friday and directed the state Attorney General to review the findings and make recommendations on how the state should proceed.

In its decision released Friday, the Court says Alaska citizens have the right to posses less than 4 ounces of marijuana in their home for personal use. The court cited the Alaska Supreme Courts' Raven decision in 1975, that the state Constitution protects possession of marijuana by adults for personal use in one's own home. In 1972, with financial and legal support from NORML (the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), a young lawyer, Raven appealed to the Alaskan Supreme Court following arrest for possession of marijuana; he declared his arrest violated his private rights. In 1975 the Supreme Court ruled by five to one in favour of Raven. In 1990, Alaskans approved a ballot proposition that re-criminalized the possession of any amount of marijuana by making possession of less than a pound of cannabis a Class B Misdemeanor. but the impact of this measure remains cloudy.

Subsequent court rulings have upheld the earlier 1975 decision, but the state's highest court has not ruled on the matter, so the law remains ambiguous.

NORML still lists Alaska as having decriminalized cannabis. According to NORML, this means users are treated leniently even though possession of less than 227 grams may be punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine up to $1,000.

Watch the Drug Policy Digest for more developments on Alaska's sudden shift in cannabis policy.

Monday, September 01, 2003
Justice Department Web Site "Preserving Life & Liberty" Defends Patriot Act Against Critics
Also, Clarification on the Federal Death Penalty for Drug Trafficers

Briefly off topic, the United States Department of Justice has launched a web site called "Preserving Life & Liberty" at that defends the U.S.A. Patriot Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) against those who claim the measure is.... overly ambitious. The appearance of the site in the wake of press reports that "Patriot Act II" or "Son of the Patriot Act" is about to be rushed through Congress, as some claim its predecessor was. For those interested in this type of thing, a draft of Patriot Act II, referred to in the text as the "Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003" (dated January 9,2003) is available here.

And, while we're on the subject, some have asked about the federal death penalty and its application to drug policy. It seems that capital punishment under federal jurisdiction is based upon two legislative acts: the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 and the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994. Federal law now permits the death penalty in a range of crimes involving murder and at least 4 crimes that do not involve murder: espionage, treason, "attempting, authorizing or advising the killing of any officer, juror,or witness" in the course of a case involving an alleged "Continuing Criminal Enterprise" -- whether or not an actual killing or attempted killing results, and "Trafficking in large quantities of drugs." It turns out that the provision of the Linbergh Law that permitted the death penalty for kidnapping (with or without death to the victim) was nullified by the Supreme Court in 1968.

For more on the use of the death penalty in drug offenses, lawyers may wish to consult Title 18 USC, Section 3591(b) for more details.