WASILLA — A bag of marijuana may safely ride in the seat of someone’s car from Houston to Palmer along Wasilla streets — at least for now.
On Monday, the Wasilla City Council voted 3-2 in favor of an ordinance requiring marijuana and marijuana products to be kept in the trunk of a vehicle, but did not get the four votes needed to enact ordinance changes. The measure also would have set a $500 fine for the offense, and entitled law enforcement officers to seize any marijuana they found and keep it for evidence.
Council members David Wilson and Gretchen O’Barr joined author Stu Graham in support of the legislation. Council members Colleen Sullivan-Leonard and Tim Burney voted against it.
Graham said he proposed the law to bring Wasilla ordinances in line with state open container laws pertaining to alcohol.
“In the case of an open container of alcohol, that cannot be in the passenger compartment unless it’s an SUV-type vehicle and it’s behind the rear passenger seat,” he said. “In marijuana, the same thing should apply, and I think any marijuana that’s open is marijuana that could be used, and for us to go in and fine-tune and say, ‘Well it’s not loaded into a pipe or not loaded into a cigarette, then it’s not going to be used,’ I just don’t think that’s appropriate.”
During a public hearing, at least one person questioned whether the seizure section of the proposed municipal code violated state law.
The legislation’s chief flaw from a law enforcement perspective was that the measure would force the department to buy any green marijuana plants seized in the process, since the police department didn’t have appropriate facilities to store living plants, said Wasilla Police Chief Gene Belden.
“If a case went to court and say the city lost and had to return the green plant, then how would we do that?” he said. “We have no facility. That’s how it would affect us, and we’d be paying for it, basically.”
Belden said he didn’t think the police needed the ordinance change to enforce DUI laws. However, the possibility that edible marijuana products could factor into driving under the influence conditions did mean cops could potentially take candy away from drivers already suspected of driving under the influence, Belden said.
“It wasn’t so much for the marijuana the raw form,” he said. “It’s more for the edibles and the things like that. If we find a guy that’s DUI — on drugs or alcohol — and we find a plastic bag with chocolate candy or any kind of candy anymore, we’re going to seize that bag, if it’s opened.”
Officials haven’t yet faced a case where edibles played a role in investigation, Belden said. The basis for seizure would be to serve as a possible avenue for investigation, Belden said.
During a public hearing on the measure, at least one local marijuana advocate, Rocky Burns, questioned whether the ordinance was legal. Alaska Statute 17.38.020 generally prohibits “any political subdivision of Alaska” from using legal possession of marijuana as the basis for seizure. Another section allows local municipalities to regulate marijuana establishments.
Rocky Burns operated Discreet Deliveries with partner Larry Stamper until Anchorage police raided the business in summer 2015. A legal case involving multiple cases of drugs misconduct arising from those raids, along with undercover drug purchases, is slated for trial in May, according to court records.
“Under 17.38, local municipalities were given certain allowances,” he said. “It differs on local control than (from) alcohol control. Alcohol control was given the local option of banning personal use. That wasn’t the case in marijuana. Local control was only given to (for) marijuana establishments.”
The failure of the ordinance to pass was disappointing, Graham said.
“I certainly understand the concept of Libertarianism, but Libertarianism does not support anarchy,” he said. “In this case we’re kind of walking a thin line there, and hopefully we don’t step too far over that line. And of course, we can always consider this at a later date.”
Contact reporter Brian O’Connor at 352-2270, email@example.com, or on Twitter @reporterbriano.