ACLU Files Lawsuit to Protect Privacy Rights of Alaskans After Governor Signs Unconstitutional Marijuana Law

June 5, 2006
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE  
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

JUNEAU, AK - The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska today filed a state constitutional challenge to a newly enacted law criminalizing adults’ possession of small amounts of marijuana in the privacy of their homes. The ACLU of Alaska’s lawsuit seeks an immediate court order blocking enforcement of the law and an eventual ruling permanently striking down the legislation as unconstitutional.

“With the stroke of a pen, the Governor has signed away Alaskans’ right to be free from unwarranted government intrusion into the home,” said Michael Macleod-Ball, Executive Director of the ACLU of Alaska. “This legislation is an end-run around the Constitution, and we intend to put a stop to it.”

The legislation, House Bill 149, signed on Friday by Governor Frank Murkowski, violates the state Constitution’s privacy protections and contradicts longstanding legal precedent, according to the ACLU. The Alaska Supreme Court ruled in 1975, in Ravin v. State, that possession of small amounts of marijuana in one’s home is protected by the state Constitution's privacy provision – a decision repeatedly affirmed by Alaskan courts, most recently in 2004.

The ACLU of Alaska represents two individuals who use marijuana within the privacy of their homes, Jane Doe and Jane Roe. Both plaintiffs must remain anonymous, as they are subject to arrest and prosecution for their use of marijuana under the new law. The ACLU of Alaska is also a plaintiff on behalf of itself, as a civil liberties organization, as well as its members, some of whom use marijuana in the privacy of their homes.

Under the new law, Alaskans engaged in purely personal and private conduct in their homes now face the prospect of surveillance, searches and criminal sanctions. In addition, individuals who use marijuana to treat severe and disabling illnesses will now be at risk.

Plaintiff Jane Doe, for example, relies on marijuana to treat symptoms associated with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, a chronic neurological condition characterized by severe pain, tissue swelling and extreme sensitivity to touch. The legislation makes no exception for individuals like Doe who are dependent on the medicinal properties of marijuana.

“Even if the legislature makes marijuana illegal, I will continue to use and possess it in my home,” said Doe, in a declaration accompanying the lawsuit. “It is not an exaggeration to say that if I stop it would kill me.”

Approximately 600 patients have been issued identification cards under Alaska’s medical marijuana registry program – a number that would most certainly be higher absent the state’s longstanding recognition of the right to private marijuana possession. Under the new law, all of these patients, as well as their homes and possessions, are subject to search and seizure simply for engaging in the legally protected conduct of using medicine based on a physician’s advice.

Plaintiff Roe told the court, “I am very concerned about my privacy. I feel like what I choose to do in my own home is not something the government can just come in and regulate.”

After several failed attempts to pass the controversial law on its own merit, Governor Murkowski urged the Senate to combine the marijuana provisions with a piece of legislation primarily concerned with methamphetamine. The House, which had already passed the methamphetamine measures, initially rejected this move, but eventually acquiesced and enacted the altered legislation under intense pressure from the Governor’s office.

“Our representatives would do well to heed the words of our state’s high court upon first establishing Alaskans’ right to privacy in this arena,” said Macleod-Ball, referring to the Alaska Supreme Court’s decision in Ravin, which stated: “[Alaska] has traditionally been the home of people who prize their individuality and who have chosen to settle or continue living here in order to achieve a measure of control over their own lifestyles.”

The ACLU’s lawsuit was filed in the Alaska Superior Court in Juneau. The State of Alaska and Alaska Attorney General David W. Marquez are named as defendants.

The ACLU’s legal complaint may be viewed online at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/decrim/25777lgl20060605.html

The ACLU’s motion seeking to immediately block implementation of the law may be viewed at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/decrim/25772lgl20060605.html

A memorandum in support of the motion is available at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/decrim/25770lgl20060605.html

A letter previously sent by the ACLU to Alaska Attorney General Marquez explaining the constitutional basis for its legal challenge is also available at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/decrim/25413lgl20060501.html 
 

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