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Lawsuit Filed to Halt Enforcement of Alaska’s New Marijuana Law

March 5, 1991

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) _ Opponents of Alaska’s day-old ban on private use of marijuana filed a lawsuit Monday to halt its enforcement, alleging it violates the privacy guarantee of the Alaska Constitution.

The voter-approved law took effect Sunday, making possession of small amounts of marijuana a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

There were no reported arrests under the new law in its first day, said Lt. Chris Stockard of the Alaska State Troopers.

Alaska had the country’s most lenient marijuana law for nearly 16 years. It permitted adults to possess less than 4 ounces of pot in the privacy of their homes.

That law resulted from a 1975 state Supreme Court decision that said the state’s intrusion on Alaskans’ privacy could not be justified by marijuana’s health threat. The ruling said marijuana is ″more innocuous in terms of physiological and social damage than alcohol and tobacco.″

The lawsuit was filed in state Superior Court in Anchorage by Alaskans for Privacy, a group that campaigned against the marijuana initiative.

″There exists insufficient medical and scientific evidence to justify the state’s intrusion into the privacy of adults who wish to utilize marijuana in private,″ the lawsuit contends.

Marijuana opponents argue that more potent and dangerous strains of the drug are available today.

Alaska Chief Justice Jay Rabinowitz, who wrote the 1975 decision, recalled Monday in Juneau how much of that case turned on the scientific evidence of marijuana’s harm.

He declined to comment on the lawsuit, but said that 16 years later there is ″a new court, new ideas - the personnel changes might add a different insight.″ Rabinowitz is the only remaining member of the 1975 court.

The lawsuit also contends the law should be overturned because a ballot measure cannot be used to topple a Supreme Court decision.

Marie Majewske, who led the initiative campaign, said she was confident the law would be upheld.

″We knew from the outset it would be challenged,″ she said. ″We feel we did everything properly.″

Attorney Bob Wagstaff, who prepared the lawsuit and successfully argued the 1975 case, said he expects a judge to rule on the motion for summary judgment within 90 days. The judge will decide if a hearing is needed.