Law enforcement authorities on the Kenai Peninsula are in a holding pattern right now with regard to a recent appellate court ruling involving the state's marijuana possession law.
In an opinion overturning a jury's verdict in a Fairbanks case, the Alaska Court of Appeals ruled Alaskans may possess less than 4 ounces of marijuana in their homes for personal use.
Essentially the decision changes the state possession law back to the way it was before Alaska voters took a zero tolerance stance on pot in 1990.
Before a 1990 ballot initiative, Alaskans were allowed to possess no more than 4 ounces of marijuana in their homes without fear of criminal prosecution.
In the general election of 1990, voters approved a ballot proposition that made possession of any amount of marijuana less than 8 ounces a class B misdemeanor.
In reversing the Fairbanks verdict Aug. 29, however, the appellate court considered a 1975 Alaska Supreme Court opinion in a case known as Ravin v. State. That opinion said Alaskans can possess personal-use marijuana in their homes because prohibiting them from doing so violates their constitutional right to privacy.
Other features of the state's marijuana statute have not changed. It is still illegal to sell pot, transport it, drive under the influence of it or possess it in a public place.
Kenai District Attorney Dwayne McConnell said Friday that his office is waiting to hear from the state Department of Law before putting out any instructions to local police or Alaska State Troopers here.
Attorney General Gregg Renkes has indicated he plans to petition the Alaska Supreme Court for a review of the constitutional issues raised by the court of appeals.
"We get so few of those cases," McConnell said of possession cases involving small amounts of pot.
"If an officer calls now saying 3.9 ounces of marijuana were found at (someone's) house, I'd say we're not going to prosecute.
"We're not talking about very many of these cases," McConnell said.
"If the Supreme Court does take the matter up for review, it would be at least months and months away," he said.
State troopers also are awaiting instructions from the Attorney General, according to trooper spokesperson Tim DeSpain.
"Nothing has been presented to us yet," he said. "Everything is status quo right now."
Law officers from Soldotna and Kenai police departments are not planning any changes in procedure, either.
"We're not going to change what we're doing," said Soldotna Police Officer Greg Landeis. "Normally when we find such small marijuana amounts, it's incident to something else."
Asked to describe 4 ounces, or one-fourth of a pound of pot, Soldotna Police Sgt. Todd McGillivray said, "You can get about 1,000 joints from a pound."
In Kenai, Police Chief Chuck Kopp said the appellate court is very clear in its decision.
"They want the Alaska statute to go back to pre-1990," he said.
"We will follow the direction of the Department of Law. We're not going to be charging people with less than 4 ounces unless the Department of Law successfully appeals," Kopp said.
He also said federal law supersedes state law noting that possession of any amount of marijuana under federal law is illegal.
"Marijuana is a significant problem in Kenai," he said.
"We serve 12 to 15 search warrants a year on marijuana (growing operations). In 2002, we had 285 drug-related arrests in Kenai. Marijuana is the vast majority," Kopp said.
Asked Friday when the last marijuana growing operation was found in Kenai, Kopp said, "We served a search warrant yesterday on a residence."
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.