The current legal status of marijuana, from a nationwide perspective, is at best highly uncertain. Several states have legalized the drug for recreational use. One of these states, Alaska, has controversially brought criminal charges against an outspoken advocate for marijuana legalization. According to prosecutors, the individual engaged in conduct that was prohibited by state law at the time, even though a ballot measure legalizing most or all of those activities was already scheduled to take effect. This raises questions about whether prosecutors should continue zealous enforcement of laws that a state’s voters have rejected but that momentarily remain in force.
The federal government still imposes the highest level of restrictions on the drug. 21 U.S.C. § 812(c)(I)(c)(10). Most U.S. states have allowed its use for, at minimum, medical purposes under a doctor’s care. The federal government’s policy for the past several years has been not to interfere in states with legal medical or recreational use, provided that those states’ law enforcement activities fit with federal priorities. As of late 2016, eight states have legalized cannabis: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. Several more have “decriminalized” it, meaning that offenses are considered civil infractions, rather than criminal offenses.
In November 2014, voters in Alaska approved a ballot measure legalizing the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana. The state has had a less restrictive view of marijuana for some time. More than 40 years ago, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution’s guarantee of the right to privacy included a right to “possession of marijuana by adults at home for personal use.” Ravin v. State, 537 P. 2d 494, 511 (Alaska 1975). Unlike other states that had authorized marijuana use for medical and other purposes, however, Alaska never established a system for the authorized distribution of medical marijuana. People in the state could possess the drug, but it was not clear how they could legally obtain it.
The advocate for marijuana legalization mentioned, whom we shall call CG, earlier worked as a reporter for a local news station in Alaska. CG came to the national public’s attention when she quit her television job on-air in September 2014, in a rather colorful fashion. She revealed that she was the owner of a “cannabis club,” and she stated that she was quitting to become a full-time advocate for legalization. The club, also described as a “private patients’ association,” was reportedly intended to help medical marijuana patients avoid having to buy marijuana from street dealers.
The Alaska ballot measure became effective in February 2015, although state regulators had not completed the rulemaking process for authorized marijuana retailers at the time. According to media reports, CG’s on-air resignation—five months before full legalization would take effect—brought her to the attention of law enforcement. They sent undercover agents to make purchases from the club.
From early November 2014 onward, it was clear that the undercover purchases would be legal in a matter of months. Nevertheless, prosecutors brought charges on 14 drug-related offenses against CG, with a maximum possible penalty of 54 years in prison. As of late 2016, the case was still headed toward trial.
These blog posts are meant to be illustrative only. Unless expressly stated to the contrary herein, these matters are not the result of any legal work of Michael J. Brown, but are used to communicate a particular point of view. Michael J. Brown does not claim credit for any legal work done by any lawyer or law firm either generally or specifically, with respect to the matters contained in this blog.
Michael J. Brown, a board-certified West Texas marijuana crime attorney, has defended people’s rights against charges in state and federal courts for over 20 years. Contact us online or at (432) 687-5157 today to schedule a confidential consultation with a skilled and experienced criminal justice advocate.
More Blog Posts:
Federal Administrative and Court Decisions Paint Uncertain Picture Regarding Enforcement of Marijuana Laws, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, January 25, 2017
Appellate Court Decision Addresses Conflict Between Federal and State Medical Marijuana Laws, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, January 25, 2017
New Administration in Washington Could Significantly Change Federal Drug Policies, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, January 25, 2017