Sunday, June 14, 2009

The legal dope experiment in Alaska

Nicholas D. Kristof writes in the NY Times:
Moving forward, we need to be less ideological and more empirical in figuring out what works in combating America’s drug problem. One approach would be for a state or two to experiment with legalization of marijuana, allowing it to be sold by licensed pharmacists, while measuring the impact on usage and crime.
That sounds like a good idea, but the experiment has already been done in Alaska:
In 1975, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled in "Ravin v. State of Alaska" that a fundamental constitutional right to privacy protects personal marijuana possession. This legalized the possession of up to four ounces of marijuana for personal use. In 1990, however, a voter initiative changed state law to make possession of any amount of marijuana illegal, even in one's own home.

This clash of laws has lead to a number of court cases and appeals in the state. The latest appellate court decision deemed the 1990 voter initiative unconstitutional, on the grounds that a popular voter initiative cannot overturn a core constitutional principle.
The Alaskans keep trying to recriminalize marijuana, but the courts don't allow it, as this July 2006 story says:
A Superior Court judge has struck down part of a new Alaska law intended to circumvent the state Supreme Court's ruling that legalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana, the Associated Press reported July 11.
If Kristof really wants an empirical approach, then I suggest that he learns what happened in Alaska, and find out why the Alaskans want to recriminalize marijuana.

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