House eases burden for marijuana evidence

Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Law enforcement agents would process a smaller amount of marijuana to assist in prosecuting drug suspects under a bill approved in the House.

House Bill 373 would allow police to cultivate and preserve no more than a pound of marijuana in an effort to reduce the cost of prosecuting cases against drug suspects, said the sponsor, Rep. Lisa Murkowski, R-Anchorage.

Under current law, police who seize marijuana have to dry the plants and strip the buds and leaves to get an accurate weight of the drug. A pound of marijuana makes a suspect eligible to be prosecuted for the maximum felony under the law.

''It is absurd that the laws we employ to discourage people from growing illegal drugs in our state essentially require the state to operate a full-fledged marijuana processing facility,'' Murkowski said.

Murkowski said she toured a state facility a few years ago where agents took seized drugs to be dried and stripped. Alaska State Troopers and other agencies now spend about 9,000 hours collecting such evidence at a cost of about $250,000 annually, Murkowski said.

The bill would allow police to process and save only the amount necessary to charge the defendant with the maximum penalty. Police could photograph the plants and dispose of the contraband, she said.

The bill also makes changes to state law regarding the definition, forfeiture and disposal of contraband.

It was passed 35-0 in the House on Wednesday and moves to the Senate for consideration.

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