Dunleavy crime bill may need exemption to keep recreational marijuana industry legal

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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) — The Alaska recreational marijuana industry could be put in legal jeopardy by one of the governor’s proposed crime bills unless clarifying language is added to the legislation, according to a legal review obtained by KTUU.

Senate Bill 32 returns sentencing ranges to pre-Senate Bill 91 levels and makes it a felony to possess certain drugs. The legislation states that a person would commit a Class C felony if they possess “25 or more plants of the genus cannabis” or more than four ounces of marijuana with an intent to “manufacture or deliver.”

Deputy Attorney General Robert Henderson appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee Friday to state that the legislation was not written to target the legal Alaska marijuana industry.

"We believe that, should this issue come before the court, the court will read the provisions harmoniously, so as to prevent either statute from being invalidated," read a statement from Henderson.

According to advice from the Division of Legal and Research Services, a court construes legislation as written and a judge could interpret the language of Senate Bill 32 as superseding earlier legislation that set up the legal marijuana industry in Alaska.

"When a court construes a statute, the 'court presumes that the legislature intended every word, sentence, or provision of a statute to have some purpose, force, and effect, and that no words or provisions are superfluous,'" the legal review reads. “The Alaska Supreme Court has also held that “if two statutes conflict then the later in time controls over the earlier.””

Alaska Marijuana Industry Association Executive Director Cary Carrigan called into the Senate Judiciary Committee during public testimony Saturday, asking lawmakers to write an exemption for the legal marijuana industry and the industrial hemp industry to ensure there isn’t a problem.

“If this was unintentional, we expect a quick fix from the Dunleavy administration,” Carrigan said in a statement Monday evening, calling for a solution that leaves no ambiguity about the legal status of the industry. "We call on the governor to correct SB 32 and make clear his position on the legal marijuana industry."

The call for clarity is shared by the Division of Legal and Research Services: “In order to avoid this conflict, I would recommend specifically exempting marijuana establishments authorized under AS 17:38.070 from the changes in sec.11:71:040 (a)(3)(G).”

Assistant Attorney General Kaci Schroeder spoke to the committee on Saturday and stated the department's position that the legislation should be read “harmoniously” and that the new bill should not invalidate AS 17:38.070, the legislation regarding Alaska’s recreational marijuana industry.

However, Schoeder said that clarifying language could be added to SB 32 and that the administration welcomed additions from the committee.