ACLU Defends Sponsor of Marijuana Initiative from Attack by Santa Barbara City Council

May 8, 2007 12:00 am

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Participation in Political Process Must Not Become a Casualty of the “War on Drugs,” Says ACLU

SANTA BARBARA, CA – Citing California’s ban on strategic lawsuits against public participation (“SLAPP”), the American Civil Liberties Union today moved to dismiss a legal challenge brought by the Santa Barbara City Council seeking to thwart a new law, enacted through voter initiative, that directs police to focus resources on violent and serious crime by making marijuana use the lowest law enforcement priority. The Council’s lawsuit was brought against the initiative’s sponsor based solely on her participation in the political process.

“Individuals must be free to join in the democratic process without fear of being dragged into court,” said Allen Hopper, an attorney with the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project. “If allowed to proceed, the Council’s lawsuit will have a chilling effect on the political activity of all Californians.”

The Council is seeking to overturn Measure P, a ballot initiative that was passed on November 7, 2007 by over 65 percent of the electorate. The initiative was sponsored by Heather Poet, who is the lone target of the Council’s litigation.

California’s anti-SLAPP statute, which is intended to protect individuals from litigation based on participation in the political process, shields Poet from the Council’s lawsuit, according to the ACLU.

Today’s legal filing by the ACLU argues that initiative proponents, like Poet, must be assured they will not risk the time and expense of drawn-out litigation solely because they support the passage of a law, such as Measure P, that is later challenged in court.

Designed to free law enforcement resources to better address violent and serious crime, Measure P makes “investigations, citations, arrests, property seizures, and prosecutions for adult marijuana offenses, where the marijuana was intended for adult personal use, the city of Santa Barbara’s lowest law enforcement priority.” The measure does not de-prioritize marijuana offenses related to public use or driving under the influence.

In 2005, the city of Santa Barbara suffered over 570 violent crimes and 1,500 serious property crimes, according to federal government statistics.

Santa Barbara is not alone in enacting its lowest law enforcement priority ordinance. Since 2000, at least 11 cities and counties, including seven in California, have enacted legislation treating certain marijuana offenses as a low or the lowest law enforcement priority.

The full text of the Measure P initiative is available online at:

The ACLU’s motion calling for a dismissal of the Council’s lawsuit is available at:

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