Alaska Senate passes bill changing marijuana crime laws

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JUNEAU, Alaska — The Alaska Senate on Monday got closer to having state statutes reflect what remains illegal after Alaska voters legalized limited recreational marijuana last year.

Senators voted 17-3 to pass the bill, which outlines crimes for possessing more than 1 ounce of marijuana, the threshold voters approved last November for personal use by adults.

It changes the crimes for possession of larger amounts of marijuana, including making it a felony to possess more than 16 ounces of marijuana, and also makes it illegal to deliver marijuana for sale.

The bill also keeps marijuana on the state's list of controlled substances and prohibits a commercial or retail marijuana industry in areas where there is no organized borough or municipality.

Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River, said the version of the bill produced by the Senate Finance Committee balanced legalization with enforcement concerns from state officials.

Bruce Schulte, a marijuana legalization advocate, wrote in a text message to The Associated Press that he would have preferred to see marijuana removed from the state's controlled substances list.

Sens. Johnny Ellis, Berta Gardner and Bill Wielechowski, all Anchorage Democrats, voted against the bill.

Wielechowski said he thought marijuana should have been removed from the state's list of controlled substances, and tried to amend the bill to make that change. That amendment failed.

Other amendments to the bill were also defeated during lengthy floor debate Monday, including one from Fairbanks Republican Sen. Pete Kelly that would have made marijuana concentrates illegal in two years.

That failed, with two Democrats joining four Republican majority members in support. One of the Democrats is part of the majority caucus.

Those opposing the amendment said it didn't appear to match the will of the voters. The initiative that passed in November included concentrates in the definition of marijuana, and those opposing the amendment said they thought banning them would not meet the intent of the initiative.

The bill now goes to the House.

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