Court Upholds Law Making Marijuana Santa Barbara’s Lowest Law Enforcement Priority

July 10, 2007 12:00 am

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“Measure P is a proper legislative enactment,” Court Rules


SANTA BARBARA, CA – The American Civil Liberties Union applauded today’s ruling by a California Superior Court judge to uphold a voter-enacted initiative that directs police to focus resources on serious crime by making marijuana use the lowest law enforcement priority. Citing California’s ban on lawsuits that punish public participation in the political process, the court dismissed the city of Santa Barbara’s challenge of the law, known as Measure P, which was brought against Heather Poet because she was the proponent of the challenged initiative.

“Today’s ruling is a major victory for the democratic process and a resounding affirmation of voters’ right to de-prioritize marijuana enforcement,” said Adam Wolf, an attorney with the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project, which represented Poet in the proceedings. “The people of Santa Barbara would rather local law enforcement focus on combating serious crime than policing marijuana use. Today’s ruling confirms that the voters can make this fundamentally local decision about their community’s safety.”

In addition to finding that the city of Santa Barbara’s suit against Poet arose from “her constitutional right to participate in the process of formulating laws” and ran afoul of California’s ban on strategic lawsuits against public participation (“SLAPP”), the court held that neither state nor federal law precludes localities like Santa Barbara from prioritizing the enforcement of certain criminal offenses, including the de-prioritization of marijuana offenses.

As the ruling states, “Nothing in [Measure P] prohibits enforcement of state law…Police officers can still arrest those who violate drug possession laws in their presence. The voters have simply instructed them that they have higher priority work to do.”

“Santa Barbara is free to decline to enforce federal criminal statutes,” the ruling continues. “Indeed, the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the federal government from impressing ‘into its service – and at no cost to itself – the police officers of the 50 States.’”

Measure P was passed on November 7, 2006 by over 65 percent of the electorate. 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.

“It was terrifying to be sued by my own government, and for a fleeting moment it made me feel maybe I shouldn’t have gotten involved in the democratic process,” said Poet. “But this decision proves we do have a voice and we should never be afraid to use it. It also affirms that people in Santa Barbara, and throughout America, can protect their communities by having police focus on serious crime, rather than marijuana offenses.”

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.

Today’s ruling, issued by Judge Thomas Anderle of the California Superior Court in Santa Barbara, is online at:

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

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

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