December 28, 2011

Is Growing Marijuana Legal In Alaska?

December 28, 2011
alaska marijuana legalization

growing marijuana alaskaGrowing up in the Pacific Northwest in the days before the internet, there was always a rumor that growing marijuana in Alaska was legal. I always dismissed it as a marijuana myth until I started studying marijuana law when I was older. It always surprises me how few marijuana consumers know about the legendary case of Ravin v. State of Alaska (1975). For those that just want the summary, I think Alaska NORML summarizes it best, “Possession of less than 25 plants is protected under the Alaska Constitution’s right to privacy.” For those of you that want to read the legal reasoning, much of which could be applied to other states, here is the ruling opinion pasted below:


Irwin RAVIN, Petitioner, v. STATE of Alaska, Respondent
Supreme Court of Alaska
537 P.2d 494

May 27, 1975

Rabinowitz, C.J., and Connor, Erwin, Boochever and Fitzgerald, JJ.

Opinion by RABINOWITZ:

The constitutionality of Alaska’s statute prohibiting possession of marijuana is put in issue in this case. Petitioner Ravin was arrested in 1972 and charged with violating AS 17.12.010. Before trial Ravin attacked the constitutionality of AS 17.12.010 by a motion to dismiss in which he asserted that the State had violated his right of privacy under both the federal and Alaska constitutions, and further violated the equal protection provisions of the state and federal constitutions….

Here Ravin raises two basic claims: first, that there is no legitimate state interest in prohibiting possession of marijuana by adults for personal use, in view of the right to privacy; and secondly, that the statutory classification of marijuana as a dangerous drug, while use of alcohol and tobacco is not prohibited, denies him due process and equal protection of law.

We first address petitioner’s contentions that his constitutionally protected right to privacy compels the conclusion that the State of Alaska is prohibited from penalizing the private possession and use of marijuana. Ravin’s basic thesis is that there exists under the federal and Alaska constitutions a fundamental right to privacy, the scope of which is sufficiently broad to encompass and protect the possession of marijuana for personal use. Given this fundamental constitutional right, the State would then have the burden of demonstrating a compelling state interest in prohibiting possession of marijuana. In light of these controlling principles, petitioner argues that the evidence submitted below by both sides demonstrates that marijuana is a relatively innocuous substance, at least as compared with other less-restricted substances, and that nothing even approaching a compelling state interest was proven by the State.

Ravin’s arguments necessitate a close examination of the contours of the asserted right to privacy and the scope of this court’s review of the legislature’s determination to criminalize possession of marijuana.

We have previously stated the tests to be applied when a claim is made that state action encroaches upon an individual’s constitutional rights. In Breese v. Smith (Alaska 1972), we had before us a school hair length regulation which encroached on what we determined to be the individual’s fundamental right to determine his own personal appearance. There we stated:

Once a fundamental right under the constitution of Alaska has been shown to be involved and it has been further shown that this constitutionally protected right has been impaired by governmental action, then the government must come forward and meet its substantial burden of establishing that the abridgement in question was justified by a compelling governmental interest.

This standard is familiar federal law as well. As stated by the United States Supreme Court: Where there is a significant encroachment upon personal liberty, the State may prevail only upon showing a subordinating interest which is compelling.
The law must be shown “necessary, and not merely rationally related, to the accomplishment of a permissible state policy.”

When, on the other hand, governmental action interferes with an individual’s freedom in an area which is not characterized as fundamental, a less stringent test is ordinarily applied. In such cases our task is to determine whether the legislative enactment has a reasonable relationship to a legitimate governmental purpose. Under this latter test, which is sometimes referred to as the “rational basis” test, the State need only demonstrate the existence of facts which can serve as a rational basis for belief that the measure would properly serve the public interest….

This court has previously applied a test different from the rigid two-tier formulation to state regulations. It is appropriate in this case to resolve Ravin’s privacy claims by determining whether there is a proper governmental interest in imposing restrictions on marijuana use and whether the means chosen bear a substantial relationship to the legislative purpose. If governmental restrictions interfere with the individual’s right to privacy, we will require that the relationship between means and ends be not merely reasonable but close and substantial.

Thus, our undertaking is two-fold: we must first determine the nature of Ravin’s rights, if any, abridged by AS 17.12.010, and, if any rights have been infringed upon, then resolve the further question as to whether the statutory impingement is justified.

As we have mentioned, Ravin’s argument that he has a fundamental right to possess marijuana for personal use rests on both federal and state law, and centers on what may broadly be called the right to privacy. This “right” is increasingly the subject of litigation and commentary and is still a developing legal concept.

In Ravin’s view, the right to privacy involved here is an autonomous right which gains special significance when its situs is found in a specially protected area, such as the home. Ravin begins his privacy argument by citation of and reliance upon Griswold v. Connecticut, in which the Supreme Court of the United States struck down as unconstitutional a state statute effectively barring the dispensation of birth control information to married persons. Writing for five members of the Court, Mr. Justice Douglas noted that rights protected by the Constitution are not limited to those specifically enumerated in the Constitution. In order to secure the enumerated rights, certain peripheral rights must be recognized. In other words, the “specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance.” Certain of these penumbral rights create “zones of privacy”, for example, First Amendment rights of association, Third and Fourth Amendment rights pertaining to the security of the home, and the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The Supreme Court of the United States then proceeded to find a right to privacy in marriage which antedates the Bill of Rights and yet lies within the zone of privacy created by several fundamental constitutional guarantees. It was left unclear whether this particular right to privacy exists independently, or comes into being only because of its connection with fundamental enumerated rights.

The next important Supreme Court opinion regarding privacy is Stanley v. Georgia, in which a state conviction for possession of obscene matter was overturned as violative of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The Supreme Court had previously held that obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment. But in Stanley the Count made a distinction between commercial distribution of obscene matter and the private enjoyment of it at home. The Supreme Court concluded that the First Amendment means a state has no business telling a man, sitting alone in his own home, what books he may read or what films he may watch. The Court took care to limit its holding to mere possession of obscene materials by the individual in his own home. It noted that it did not intend to restrict the power of the state or federal government to make illegal the possession of items such as narcotics, firearms, or stolen goods.

The Stanley holding was subsequently refined by a series of cases handed down in 1973. In Paris Adult Theatre I v. Slaton, the Supreme Court rejected the claim of a theater owner that his showing of allegedly obscene films was protected by Stanley because his films were shown only to consenting adults. The Court explicitly rejected the comparison of a theater to a home and found a legitimate state interest in regulating the use of obscene matter in local commerce and places of public accommodation. It apparently found no fundamental right involved in viewing obscene matter under these conditions, for it noted that the right to privacy guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment extends only to fundamental rights. The protection offered by Stanley, the Supreme Court stated, was restricted to the home, and it explicitly refused to say that all activities occurring between consenting adults were beyond the reach of the government.

These Supreme Court cases indicate to us that the federal right to privacy arises only in connection with other fundamental rights, such as the grouping of rights which involve the home. And even in connection with the penumbra of home-related rights, the right of privacy in the sense of immunity from prosecution is absolute only when the private activity will not endanger or harm the general public….

Assuming this court were to continue to utilize the fundamental right-compelling state interest test in resolving privacy issues under article I, section 22 of Alaska’s constitution, we would conclude that there is not a fundamental constitutional right to possess or ingest marijuana in Alaska. For in our view, the right to privacy amendment to the Alaska Constitution cannot be read so as to make the possession or ingestion of marijuana itself a fundamental right. Nor can we conclude that such a fundamental right is shown by virtue of the analysis we employed in Breese. In that case, the student’s traditional liberty pertaining to autonomy in personal appearance was threatened in such a way that his constitutionally guaranteed right to an education was jeopardized. Hairstyle, as emphasized in Breese, is a highly personal matter involving the individual and his body. In this sense this aspect of liberty-privacy is akin to the significantly personal areas at stake in Griswold and Eisenstadt v. Baird. Few would believe they have been deprived of something of critical importance if deprived of marijuana, though they would if stripped of control over their personal appearance. And, as mentioned previously, a discrete federal right of privacy separate from the penumbras of specifically enumerated constitutional rights has not as yet been articulated by the Supreme Court of the United States. Therefore, if we were employing our former test, we would hold that there is no fundamental right, either under the Alaska or federal constitutions, either to possess or ingest marijuana.

The foregoing does not complete our analysis of the right to privacy issues. For in Gray we stated that the right of privacy amendment of the Alaska Constitution “clearly it shields the ingestion of food, beverages or other substances,” but that this right may be held to be subordinate to public health and welfare measures. Thus, Ravin’s right to privacy contentions are not susceptible to disposition solely in terms of answering the question whether there is a general fundamental constitutional right to possess or smoke marijuana.

This leads us to a more detailed examination of the right to privacy and the relevancy of where the right is exercised. At one end of the scale of the scope of the right to privacy is possession or ingestion in the individual’s home. If there is any area of human activity to which a right to privacy pertains more than any other, it is the home. The importance of the home has been amply demonstrated in constitutional law. Among the enumerated rights in the federal Bill of Rights are the guarantee against quartering of troops in a private house in peacetime (Third Amendment) and the right to be “secure in their . . . . houses . . . . against unreasonable searches and seizures . . . .” (Fourth Amendment). The First Amendment has been held to protect the right to “privacy and freedom of association in the home.” The Fifth Amendment has been described as providing protection against all governmental invasions “of the sanctity of a man’s home and the privacies of life.” The protection of the right to receive birth control information in Griswold was predicated on the sanctity of the marriage relationship and the harm to this fundamental area of privacy if police were allowed to “search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms.” And in Stanley v. Georgia, the Court emphasized the home as the situs of protected “private activities.” The right to receive information and ideas was found in Stanley to take on an added dimension precisely because it was a prosecution for possession in the home: “For also fundamental is the right to be free, except in very limited circumstances, from unwanted governmental intrusions into one’s privacy.” In a later case, the Supreme Court noted that Stanley was not based on the notion that the obscene matter was itself protected by a constitutional penumbra of privacy, but rather was a “reaffirmation that ‘a man’s home is his castle.'” At the same time the Court noted, “the Constitution extends special safeguards to the privacy of the home, just as it protects other special privacy rights such as those of marriage, procreation, motherhood, child rearing, and education.” And as the Supreme Court pointed out, there exists a “myriad” of activities which may be lawfully conducted within the privacy and confines of the home, but may be prohibited in public.

In Alaska we have also recognized the distinctive nature of the home as a place where the individual’s privacy receives special protection. This court has consistently recognized that the home is constitutionally protected from unreasonable searches and seizures, reasoning that the home itself retains a protected status under the Fourth Amendment and Alaska’s constitution distinct from that of the occupant’s person. The privacy amendment to the Alaska Constitution was intended to give recognition and protection to the home. Such a reading is consonant with the character of life in Alaska. Our territory and now state has traditionally been the home of people who prize their individuality and who have chosen to settle or to continue living here in order to achieve a measure of control over their own lifestyles which is now virtually unattainable in many of our sister states.

The home, then, carries with it associations and meanings which make it particularly important as the situs of privacy. Privacy in the home is a fundamental right, under both the federal and Alaska constitutions. We do not mean by this that a person may do anything at anytime as long as the activity takes place within a person’s home. There are two important limitations on this facet of the right to privacy. First, we agree with the Supreme Court of the United States, which has strictly limited the Stanley guarantee to possession for purely private, noncommercial use in the home. And secondly, we think this right must yield when it interferes in a serious manner with the health, safety, rights and privileges of others or with the public welfare. No one has an absolute right to do things in the privacy of his own home which will affect himself or others adversely. Indeed, one aspect of a private matter is that it is private, that is, that it does not adversely affect persons beyond the actor, and hence is none of their business. When a matter does affect the public, directly or indirectly, it loses its wholly private character, and can be made to yield when an appropriate public need is demonstrated.

Thus, we conclude that citizens of the State of Alaska have a basic right to privacy in their homes under Alaska’s constitution. This right to privacy would encompass the possession and ingestion of substances such as marijuana in a purely personal, non-commercial context in the home unless the state can meet its substantial burden and show that proscription of possession of marijuana in the home is supportable by achievement of a legitimate state interest.

This leads us to the second facet of our inquiry, namely, whether the State has demonstrated sufficient justification for the prohibition of possession of marijuana in general in the interest of public welfare; and further, whether the State has met the greater burden of showing a close and substantial relationship between the public welfare and control of ingestion or possession of marijuana in the home for personal use.

The evidence which was presented at the hearing before the district court consisted primarily of several expert witnesses familiar with various medical and social aspects of marijuana use. Numerous written reports and books were also introduced into evidence….

The short-term physiological effects are relatively undisputed. An immediate slight increase in the pulse, decrease in salivation, and a slight reddening of the eyes are usually noted. There is also impairment of psychomotor control. These effects generally end within two to three hours of the end of smoking.

Long-term physiological effects raise more controversy among the experts. The National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse reported that among users “no significant physical, biochemical, or mental abnormalities could be attributed solely to their marijuana smoking.” Certain researchers have pointed to possible deleterious effects on the body’s immune defenses, on the chromosomal structures of users, and on testosterone levels in the body….It should be noted that most of the damage suggested by these studies comes in the context of intensive use of concentrated forms of THC. It appears that the use of marijuana, as it is presently used in the United States today, does not constitute a public health problem of any significant dimensions. It is, for instance, far more innocuous in terms of physiological and social damage than alcohol or tobacco. But the studies suggesting dangers in intensive cannabis use do raise valid doubts which cannot be dismissed or discounted….

The immediate psychological effects of marijuana are typically a mild euporia and a relaxed feeling of well-being. The user may feel a heightened sensitivity to taste and to visual and aural sensations, and his perception of time intervals may be distorted. A desire to become high can lead to a greater high; fear of becoming high or general nervousness can cause the user to fail to experience any high at all. In rare cases, excessive nervousness or fear of the drug can even precipitate a panic reaction. Occasionally a user will experience a negative reaction such as anxiety or depression, particularly when he takes in more of the substance than needed to achieve the desired high.

Additional short-term effects are an impairment of immediate-past-memory facility and impairment in performing psychomotor tasks. Experienced users seem less impaired in this regard than naive users.

In extremely rare instances, use of marijuana has been known to precipitate psychotic episodes; however, the consensus of the experts seems to be that the potential for precipitating psychotic episodes exists only for a limited number of prepsychotic persons who could be pushed into psychosis by any number of drug or nondrug-related influences.

There is considerable debate as to the long-term effects of marijuana on mental functioning. Certain researchers cite evidence of an “amotivational syndrome” among long-term heavy cannabis users….

We glean from these cases the general proposition that the authority of the state to exert control over the individual extends only to activities of the individual which affect others or the public at large as it relates to matters of public health or safety, or to provide for the general welfare. We believe this tenet to be basic to a free society. The state cannot impose its own notions of morality, propriety, or fashion on individuals when the public has no legitimate interest in the affairs of those individuals. The right of the individual to do as he pleases is not absolute, of course: it can be made to yield when it begins to infringe on the rights and welfare of others.

Further, the authority of the state to control the activities of its citizens is not limited to activities which have a present and immediate impact on the public health or welfare. It is conceivable, for example, that a drug could so seriously develop in its user a withdrawal or amotivational syndrome, that widespread use of the drug could significantly debilitate the fabric of our society. Faced with a substantial possibility of such a result, the state could take measures to combat the possibility. The state is under no obligation to allow otherwise “private” activity which will result in numbers of people becoming public charges or otherwise burdening the public welfare. But we do not find that such a situation exists today regarding marijuana. It appears that effects of marijuana on the individual are not serious enough to justify widespread concern, at least as compared with the far more dangerous effects of alcohol, barbiturates and amphetamines….

Thus we conclude that no adequate justification for the state’s intrusion into the citizen’s right to privacy by its prohibition of possession of marijuana by an adult for personal consumption in the home has been shown. The privacy of the individual’s home cannot be breached absent a persuasive showing of a close and substantial relationship of the intrusion to a legitimate governmental interest. Here, mere scientific doubts will not suffice. The state must demonstrate a need based on proof that the public health or welfare will in fact suffer if the controls are not applied.

The state has a legitimate concern with avoiding the spread of marijuana use to adolescents who may not be equipped with the maturity to handle the experience prudently, as well as a legitimate concern with the problem of driving under the influence of marijuana. Yet these interests are insufficient to justify intrusions into the rights of adults in the privacy of their own homes. Further, neither the federal or Alaska constitution affords protection for the buying or selling of marijuana, nor absolute protection for its use or possession in public. Possession at home of amounts of marijuana indicative of intent to sell rather than possession for personal use is likewise unprotected.

In view of our holding that possession of marijuana by adults at home for personal use is constitutionally protected, we wish to make clear that we do not mean to condone the use of marijuana. The experts who testified below, including petitioner’s witnesses, were unanimously opposed to the use of any psychoactive drugs. We agree completely. It is the responsibility of every individual to consider carefully the ramifications for himself and for those around him of using such substances. With the freedom which our society offers to each of us to order our lives as we see fit goes the duty to live responsibly, for our own sakes and for society’s. This result can best be achieved, we believe, without the use of psychoactive substances.

The record does not disclose any facts as to the situs of Ravin’s arrest and his alleged drug possession. Under these circumstances, we hold that the matter must be remanded to the district court for the purpose of developing the facts concerning Ravin’s arrest and circumstances of his possession of marijuana. Once this is accomplished, the district court is to consider Ravin’s motion to dismiss in conformity with this opinion.
BOOCHEVER, Justice (concurring, with whom CONNOR, Justice, joins).

Because of the importance of the issues discussed in this case and the possibility that portions of the opinion may be construed as substantially circumscribing the Alaska Constitutional right to privacy, I find it necessary to file this concurrence. By its reliance on certain United States Supreme Court cases and the manner in which some of the conclusions are set forth, the opinion may be read as limiting the right of privacy principally to protection of activities engaged in within the confines of the home. The opinion relies chiefly on United States Supreme Court precedent, although there is no Federal Constitutional provision corresponding to art. 1, § 22 of the Alaska Constitution which specifies that “the right of the people to privacy is recognized and shall not be infringed”. While Federal cases defining the right of privacy derived from other provisions of the United States Constitution are of assistance in determining the perimeters of our constitutional right to privacy, we are construing the separate Alaska provision. Even when Alaska Constitutional provisions are closely akin to those of the Federal Constitution, we have stated: We need not stand by idly and passively, waiting for constitutional direction from the highest court of the land. Instead, we should be moving concurrently to develop and expound the principles embedded in our constitutional law.

Although the majority opinion emphasizes the right of privacy in the home, it recognizes that analysis of the Federal decisions does not indicate that the right of privacy is relegated to the home….

Since the citizens of Alaska, with their strong emphasis on individual liberty, enacted an amendment to the Alaska Constitution expressly providing for a right to privacy not found in the United States Constitution, it can only be concluded that that right is broader in scope than that of the Federal Constitution. As such, it includes not only activities within the home and values associated with the home, but also the right to be left alone and to do as one pleases as long as the activity does not infringe on the rights of others. Thus, the decision whether to ingest food, beverages or other substances comes within the purview of that right to privacy.

The right to privacy, however, is not monolithic. For example, the right to decide whether to eat strawberry ice cream cannot be placed on the same level as that of deciding whether to bear a child. Moreover, the importance of the right may properly be related to the place where it is exercised, for example, at the home or in the market place.

Having discussed generally the contours of what I perceive to be the right to privacy under the Alaska Constitution, I shall turn briefly to the test utilized by the court in determining infringements of that right.

I agree with the majority’s departure from that test in areas where we have discretion to depart from standards established by the United States Supreme Court. With reference to laws challenged as invading the Alaskan right of privacy, I would apply a single flexible test dependent first upon the importance of the right involved. Based on the nature of that right, a greater or lesser burden would be placed on the state to show the relationship of the intrusion to a legitimate governmental interest. I agree with the majority opinion that interference with rights of privacy within one’s home requires a very high level of justification…..

CONNOR, Justice (concurring).

The decision today properly leaves unanswered the question of how far the right to privacy, in connection with the possession of marijuana, extends outside the home….

The record in the case before us does not contain facts about the particular circumstances in which appellant possessed marijuana. Accordingly, we must remand the case for further elucidation of the facts.

It is certain that the right to privacy does not vanish when one leaves the home. There are certain aspects of personal autonomy which one carries with him even when he ventures out of the home, though the claim to privacy diminishes in proportion to the extent that one’s person and one’s activities impinge upon other persons. But, in order to trace the contours of the right to privacy, it will be necessary to engage in a critical analysis of the facts of each case which presents itself for decision. Only in this fashion can the right to privacy, outside the home, be determined on a reasoned, coherent basis so as to furnish the courts and the public with reliable rules of action. Much definitional work, therefore, remains to be done in the cases yet to be determined…..


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