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See Also: CCLE Drug Law Library

September 2, 2003

Court Rules that Alaska Constitution Protects
Personal Possession of Marijuana in the Home

The Alaska Court of Appeals ruled Friday that the Alaska Constitutionís privacy guarantee protects an adultís right to possess up to four ounces of marijuana in the home for personal use. The ruling (Noy v. State, No. 1897) overturns the conviction of David Noy, a North Pole medical marijuana patient.

The decision was the first to resolve a legal conflict between a 1975 Supreme Court of Alaska decision, Ravin v. State, 537 P.2d 494, and a voter initiative passed in 1990.

The Ravin case determined that while there was no fundamental right to possess or use marijuana, an amendment to the Alaska constitution protecting the right of privacy was broad enough to protect possession of marijuana in the home by adults, provided the possession was purely personal and non-commercial in nature. The 1975 decision affirmed the stateís interest in prohibiting marijuana to protect public welfare, but found that while that interest properly justified laws against driving under the influence of marijuana or laws prohibiting possession of marijuana by minors, it did not justify barring an adultís personal possession of marijuana inside a home.

Shortly after the Ravin decision, the Alaska legislature amended the stateís marijuana laws and set an upper limit of less than four ounces for personal possession. This earned Alaska the popular, if incorrect, reputation for having legalized marijuana.

In 1990, with the support of then federal drug-czar William Bennett, Alaska voters responded by introducing an initiative to criminalize possession of any amount of marijuana in any location. The initiative, which was carefully designed to invalidate the Ravin decision, passed with 55% of the vote. Prior to Fridayís ruling, then the question of whether the voter initiative could legally trump the Supreme Courtís interpretation of the Alaska constitution remained unresolved.

On Friday, August 29, the Court of Appeals ruled that when a statute like the voter initiative conflicts with a constitutional provision, the statute must give way. ď[A] statute which purports to attach criminal penalties to constitutionally protected conduct is void,Ē the court stated. To reconcile the initiative with the state constitution, the appellate court restricted its enforcement to personal possession of four ounces or more of marijuana.

Alaska Attorney General, Gregg Renkes, has criticized the decision as going too far, and intends to appeal it to the Alaska Supreme Court.

The Noy decision can be read online at:
 http://www.state.ak.us/courts/ops/ap-1897.pdf

See Also:

CCLE Report: Medical Marijuana & Cognitive Liberty

CCLE Entheogen and Drug Policy Project

CCLE Drug Law Library