ANCHORAGE — The lawyer who in 1973 set off a decades-long battle over how much marijuana an Alaska resident can legally keep at home has died.
Irwin Ravin died at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage of undisclosed causes, according to a hospital spokeswoman. He was 70 years old.
Back in 1973, Ravin set into motion more than 35 years of legal tumult in Alaska when he arranged to have himself arrested with a stash of marijuana in his pocket so he could challenge the marijuana laws.
His case went to the Alaska Supreme Court, which ruled in the landmark 1975 case, Ravin v. Alaska, that the law banning home use and possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults violated a state constitutional right to privacy.
Ever since, lawmakers, activists and others have battled in court over the law and its conflicting implications.
"Supposedly you can possess it in your house," said Sgt. Denny Allen, supervisor of the Anchorage police Community Action Policing team. "But then the question becomes: how do you get it there?"
The Ravin decision did not mention a specific amount one could possess, but in 1982 the Alaska Legislature determined less than four ounces was a personal stash unless there was evidence of sales or distribution. That amount was later reduced to one ounce.
Today, the law remains murky. In 2006, the Alaska Legislature, citing evidence that marijuana now is much more potent than it once was, passed a law recriminalizing small amounts of pot at home, said state Department of Law spokesman Bill McAllister.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska challenged the law on privacy grounds and won in Superior Court, he said. But the state appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court, which threw out the lower court decision but didn't clarify whether the law was at odds with Ravin, he said.
"So the law that was passed in 2006 is on the books," McAllister said. "It's unknown what would happen if a case was brought."
Anchorage police spokesman Lt. Dave Parker said that though police generally don't go looking for small quantities of marijuana in the home, officers will confiscate it if they find it.