July 11, 2006

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

ACLU Wins Multi-Year Battle to Protect Alaska Residents From Drug War Excesses

JUNEAU — In a landmark ruling, an Alaska state court judge has upheld adults' right to possess and use small amounts of marijuana within their homes. The American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the law, said the ruling confirmed that the state constitution protects adults who use and possess marijuana in their homes from police surveillance, searches, arrest and prosecution.

"The drug war has wreaked havoc on the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution, but fortunately many state constitutions still shield individuals from drug war excess," said Allen Hopper, an attorney with the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project. "This ruling is incredibly significant from a national perspective, because there are a number of states with similar privacy rights in their constitutions that may afford protections to adult marijuana users."

With the court's ruling, Alaska remains the only state in the nation in which adults are legally free to possess and use small amounts of marijuana within their homes.

"The state of Alaska has charted a different course from that of the federal government's failed policy on marijuana," said Michael MacLeod-Ball, Executive Director of the ACLU of Alaska. "This ruling affirms Alaska's commitment to fundamental privacy rights over reefer madness."

The ACLU filed suit against the State of Alaska after it passed a law earlier this year that would have re-criminalized adult use and possession of small amounts of marijuana within the home. Since 1975, the Alaska Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the state constitution's privacy provisions protect adults' possession of small amounts of marijuana in the home, and the state court's ruling relied in part on those decisions. A similar law was proposed in 2005 by Governor Frank Murkowski, but failed to pass following testimony by international, national and state scientific experts that adult use of marijuana is no more dangerous today than it was in 1975.

In the 1975 ruling, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled in Ravin v. State that the state constitution's right to privacy protects adults who use and possess marijuana within the home from criminal prosecution.

Judge Patricia Collins of the Juneau Superior Court relied on the Ravin decision to reaffirm that the relatively minor dangers associated with adult possession and use of small amounts of marijuana within the home do not justify government surveillance and searches of homes or criminal prosecution. Her ruling was issued late yesterday.

The State of Alaska argued that since the 1975 Ravin decision, marijuana has become more potent and dangerous, justifying a revisiting of the Supreme Court's previous ruling. Judge Collins disagreed, stating in her opinion that the "[Ravin] decision is law until and unless the supreme court takes contrary action."

The ruling is online at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/decrim/26112lgl20060711.html

The ACLU's legal papers are available at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/decrim/26060lgl20060630.html

Additional background information on ACLU of Alaska v. State of Alaska can also be found at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/decrim/26076prs20060630.html

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