Right to Privacy Includes Marijuana Personal Use in Alaska: Ravin v. State

Marijuana LitigationAttorney Irwin Ravin was arrested on October 11, 1972, and charged with violating Alaska Statute 17.12.010 for possessing cannabis for personal use. Before trial in front of the Alaska District Court, Ravin attacked the constitutionality of AS 17.12.010 by a motion to dismiss asserting that the state had violated his right of privacy under both the federal and Alaska constitutions, and further violated the federal and Alaska equal protection provisions. The district court denied Ravin’s motion to dismiss. Ravin appealed that decision to the superior court, which affirmed. Ravin then appealed that decision to the Alaska Supreme Court.

Ravin had two arguments on appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court: first, that there is no legitimate Alaska state interest in prohibiting possession of marijuana by adults for personal use, in view of the right to privacy; and second, that the statutory classification of marijuana as a dangerous drug (while not prohibiting use of alcohol and tobacco), denies him due process and the equal protection of law.

Regarding the right to privacy, Ravin argued that the federal and Alaska constitutions contain a fundamental right to privacy:

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 . . . 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.

The Alaska Supreme Court determined there was “a proper governmental interest in imposing restrictions on marijuana use and whether the means chosen bear a substantial relationship to the legislative purpose.”  The Court decided that, 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.”

The Court ultimately held that the “. . . the federal right to privacy arises only in connection with other fundamental rights, such as the grouping of rights which involve the home,” and that the right to use and consume cannabis is not a recognized fundamental right. Under the Alaska constitution though, the Court recognized that one has a fundamental right of privacy in their home, and that

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.

Most importantly, the Alaska Supreme Court held that the right to privacy enshrined in the Alaska Constitution allowed Ravin to consume cannabis in his own home:

[W]e believe that at present, the need for control of drivers under the influence of marijuana and the existing doubts as to the safety of marijuana, demonstrate a sufficient justification for the prohibition found in AS 17.12.010 as an exercise of the state’s police power for the public welfare. Given the evidence of the effect of marijuana on driving an individual’s right to possess or ingest marijuana while driving would be subject to the prohibition provided for in AS 17.12.010. However, given the relative insignificance of marijuana consumption as a health problem in our society at present, we do not believe that the potential harm generated by drivers under the influence of marijuana, standing alone, creates a close and substantial relationship between the public welfare and control of ingestion of marijuana or possession of it in the home for personal use. 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.

Ravin v. State, 537 P.2d 494 (Alaska 1975).

NOTE: The above is part of our plan to summarize all cannabis civil cases with a published court decision. By civil case, we mean any case that involves cannabis or the cannabis industry that is not a strictly criminal law matter. These cannabis case summaries are intended both to keep you up to date on cannabis laws as interpreted by the courts and also to serve as a resource for anyone conducting cannabis law research. We also will seek to provide key unpublished cannabis law decisions as well, when available.