JUNEAU, Alaska — Pictures of blown-up homes, pot-infused candy and a dire warning that weed edibles will kill children weren’t enough to ignite support for a Fairbanks senator’s amendment to ban marijuana concentrates in 2017.
Republican Sen. Pete Kelly’s attempt to criminalize marijuana concentrates when the two-year constitutional protection for Ballot Measure 2 expires fell flat on the Senate floor Monday, with many fellow Republicans and urban Democrats concerned the ban was an overreaction that undermined voter intent.
The amendment was offered to a largely non-controversial bill updating criminal law to be in line with the voter initiative to legalize marijuana.
Senate Bill 30, which senators had hoped to get into law before Ballot Measure 2 went into effect on Feb. 24, passed the Senate 17-3. North Pole Sen. John Coghill said the bill “has been moving at the speed of cold molasses.”
Kelly’s amendment, first offered in the Senate Finance Committee three weeks ago, was, in part, a contributor to that delay.
Kelly’s argument rested on a core belief that voters didn’t know Ballot Measure 2 made marijuana concentrates like hash oil and edibles legal.
“I don’t know specifically what the will of the people was, I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t to put kids in danger, and these concentrates do just that,” he said.
On the floor, Kelly made the case for his ban by comparing the process of making and smoking marijuana concentrates to meth. He also referenced high-profile cases in Colorado where men used marijuana edibles and either leapt to their death or, in one case where it was reportedly mixed with prescription medication, shot his wife.
He appealed, specifically, to the danger weed edibles pose to children.
“The kids are going to take these and they’re going to have psychotic episodes that they may never recover from,” he said. “In fact, it is not a stretch to say they will die from this.”
The argument garnered the support of conservative Republicans and rural Democrats, but not many others.
Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, recognized the danger high-potency marijuana can do to young people, but said the response to ban them doesn’t match up with Alaska’s libertarian-leaning philosophy.
“At some point where do we say we’re getting into nanny state territory? A lot of people get frostbite, what’s next? A bill saying we’re not going to allow people go outside when it’s 50 below, especially the kids?” he said. “Kids get hurt using knives, well should we ban knives for kids? And of course, guns. Do kids ever get shot with guns, what’s next? Banning guns? Where do we draw the line with this? We’re not a nanny state.”
In an unusual break from caucus lines, many Republicans also lined up against Kelly’s amendment, offering some of the strongest cases against it.
Sen. Peter Micciche, a Soldotna Republican who has made no secret of his opposition to commercial marijuana, said the initiative language was clear, but more importantly, regulating marijuana concentrates now is better than banning them in two years.
“I’m unwilling to wait two years,” he said. “My battle the rest of this session is to eliminate the possibility of attractive candies that are enhanced with THC. I want edibles to be heavily regulated, I want them to be limited per serving per item, I want the display to be strictly controlled, I don’t want them to be attractive and I want them to be in child-proof containers.”
Sen. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, also raised a point that hadn’t been heard before. He said a likely court battle over the ban ultimately would land the issue before the Alaska Supreme Court, where he said the result could be a “crapshoot,” like the 1975 case Ravin v. State that resulted in marijuana possession being protected under the constitutional right to privacy.
“I’m afraid of the Alaska Supreme Court and what they will do,” he said. “We have a very activist court. ... They are going to be involved in this discussion, and they were the same people who said a guy who gets arrested for marijuana in his car creates a private use in your home.”
He said he has much more trust in the ballot initiative and legislative processes than leaving it to the justices.
Kelly’s amendment failed 14-6. The yeas were Kelly, Coghill, and Sens. Charlie Huggins, Cathy Giessel, Lyman Hoffman and Donny Olson.
Wielechowski, Micciche and Stoltze were joined by Sens. Click Bishop, Mike Dunleavy, Anna MacKinnon, Berta Gardner, Johnny Ellis, Mia Costello, Lesil McGuire, Kevin Meyer, Gary Stevens, Dennis Egan and Bert Stedman.
The only “no” votes on the overall bill were Wielechowski, Ellis and Gardner, who felt SB 30 didn’t go far enough to meet the will of the voters, specifically because it kept marijuana on the controlled substance list and not the regulated substance list.
Ballot Measure 2 went into effect Feb. 24. It passed by a wide margin in the Fairbanks area, with a greater than 50 percent vote in nearly every precinct in the Fairbanks North Star Borough. It legalized possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by people 21 and older. People also can grow up to six plants in their home.
The initiative also sets up the roadmap for legalized commercial marijuana cultivation and sales in Alaska with the first licenses to be issued by May 2016. The regulations for commercial marijuana sales are due in November.
The other provisions of SB 30 would reduce the severity of penalties for possession of more than an ounce of marijuana. Under current law, four ounces is the threshold for a felony, SB 30 would raise the felony level to 16 ounces and introduces a staged level of misdemeanors for between one and 16 ounces of marijuana.
It also introduces crimes for giving marijuana to underage people and for driving with an open container of marijuana. The bill also limits the sale of marijuana concentrates to 5 grams per transaction.
The bill now heads to the House, which has held nearly as many hearings on marijuana as the Senate.
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459‑7544. Follow him on Twitter: