Alaska Senate Passes Disappointing Marijuana Bill

After 15 hearings, hundreds of hours and thousands voices heard, the Alaska Senate has finally passed a marijuana regulatory bill. With a vote of 17-3, SB 30 will now leave the Senate and head over to the House for consideration. The bill is a mixed bag of blessings and defeats, leaving everyone involved slightly disappointed and slightly relieved.

One of the most important, and alarming, amendments to the bill was defeated in committee before the bill went to the floor for a vote. The amendment in question, also known as the Kelly Amendment, would have banned marijuana concentrates. Republican Sen. Pete Kelley introduced the amendment, and his reasons were steeped in medical grade ignorance.

As reported by Alaska Dispatch News, Kelly said that voters did not want marijuana oil, they “wanted the leafy stuff.” Clutching his pearls, Kelly spun frightening hypothetical tales about children going over to “weird Uncle Eddie’s house,” eating a marijuana cookie and dying.

“It is not a stretch to say that (children) will die,” Kelly told his colleagues. Thankfully, facts and won the day.

The provisions that did make it into the bill were much more reasonable, although many deficiencies still remained. For example, under SB 30, marijuana will still be considered a controlled substance and possession of more than 16 ounces or 25 plants is considered a felony offense.

However, giving marijuana to a minor is considered a misdemeanor. For a group of legislators so concerned about protecting “the children” it is rather telling that they think having more than 16 ounces of marijuana is a more egregious crime than “weird Uncle Eddie” giving  a child marijuana.

The bill also bans marijuana businesses in unorganized boroughs, where approximately 81,000 Alaskans live. If these unorganized boroughs want a marijuana business, they will have to opt back into legalization, which is a slap in the face of anyone living in those boroughs who voted for recreational marijuana in 2014.

There are also amendments in the bill to establish marijuana DUI laws and public smoking bans.

Despite all the flaws with this bill, state senators were quick to pat themselves on the back for a job well done. “First and foremost, we focused on making sure the intent of the voters was met while keeping our communities safe,” said Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Lesil McGuire in a statement. “I think this is a good bill in that regard.”

Aside from penalizing intoxicated drivers, what exactly is the legislature protecting Alaskans against? When possessing marijuana is a more serious crime than giving marijuana to children, one has to question how much safety was actually taken into consideration. Thankfully, SB 30 has to go through the House before it heads to the governor’s desk, so there may be time to address some of these issues.

That notwithstanding, it will be up to the state’s Alcohol Beverage Control board to right any wrongs that SB 30 has wrought. Hopefully, the ABC Board will prove to be less disappointing than the Senate, but don’t hold your breath.

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