JUNEAU — Suggesting voters had no idea what was in the initiative to legalize marijuana, a Fairbanks senator obtained passage of an amendment Friday to criminalize all marijuana concentrates — including edibles — as soon as the constitutional protection for the voter-approved initiative expires.
It’s a move that a pro-pot group said will kill legalized marijuana before it even gets off the ground.
Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, put forward the amendment, telling his colleagues on the Finance Committee that voters wanted leafy marijuana, not the “highly manufactured, extremely potent” edibles and concentrates he believes will lead directly to deaths.
“We’ve heard a lot around this table about what the people of Alaska were thinking or not thinking when they voted on the marijuana initiative,” he said. “I don’t claim to know what they were thinking, but I have a pretty good of what they weren’t thinking — they did not want to put their kids in danger and I think possibly grave danger.”
Kelly made the case for their danger by referencing studies linking high-dosage marijuana use to psychotic episodes and with a YouTube video of a woman falling over — apparently passing out — after smoking concentrates.
Citing the same lack of voter education, the committee also voted to ban all commercial marijuana activities in all unorganized parts of the state. The initiative allows communities to ban commercial marijuana, but rural Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, used a provision in the state Constitution that allows the Legislature to serve as the assembly for the unorganized borough — everywhere outside a municipality.
It was an attitude Soldotna Republican Sen. Peter Micciche, who’s made it clear he and his constituents didn’t support Ballot Measure 2, said didn’t respect the will of the voters throughout the state.
“For me, it’s patronizing to assume what they felt,” he said, while discussing the ban of commercial marijuana activities in the unorganized borough.
Kelly’s amendment to Senate Bill 30, which chiefly deals with cleaning up Alaska’s criminal laws to fit with Ballot Measure 2, would criminalize all forms of concentrates starting Feb. 24, 2017, when the two-year constitutional protection for voter initiatives expires.
It narrowly passed 4-3 with Kelly joined by Fairbanks Republican Sen. Click Bishop and rural Democratic Sens. Donny Olson and Lyman Hoffman in voting “yes.” Republicans Anna MacKinnon, Peter Micciche and Mike Dunleavy all voted “no.” The unorganized borough amendment passed 5-2, with only Bishop and Micciche voting “no.” That amendment would allow “established villages” to opt into commercial marijuana.
Bruce Schulte, a spokesman for the Alaska-based Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation, was infuriated by Kelly’s amendment. He said assuming voters didn’t think Ballot Measure 2 included concentrates is wrong.
Ballot Measure 2 didn’t directly mention concentrates, hash oil or edibles, although concentrates often featured centrally in debates and anti-Ballot Measure 2 advertising.
The bill’s language, which went into effect Feb. 24, includes a definition for marijuana that includes concentrates, allowing Alaskans 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana outside their home.
“It’s a completely false claim. These issues were debated in such detail, in every debate and any forum that was hosted by any group,” Schulte said. “His voters should be furious. ... He has just made himself a proxy for the prohibitionists who the voters rejected back in November.”
If he’s wrong, Kelly said he’s willing to stand up to voters in the next election.
“I’m perfectly willing to do that over these concentrates,” he said. “I’d rather stand in front of the voters, having voted against something this dangerous, than I would stand in front of a mother in an emergency room with a kid in a psychotic episode or maybe dead, because I believe there are going to be deaths.”
In Senate District A, Ballot Measure 2 received slightly more “yes” votes than Kelly did in his campaign.
Schulte said he’s hopeful the amendment can be undone as the bill moves through the rest of the Legislature where “most of the legislators are trying to do a good job, trying to get educated and do what’s right with the voters.”
Schulte said the implications of the amendment will be felt well before 2017. Without a legal way to get leafy marijuana or edibles, people will turn to the black market and risky methods of creating concentrates at home, he said.
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.