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LOCAL News :: Health & Drugs

America's Failed Drug War: Santa Cruz and the National Debate

SANTA CRUZ – The American Civil Liberties Union, which is headquartered in New York City, recently relocated one of its national projects - the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project - to Santa Cruz. To introduce itself to the community, the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project will co-host a community forum with the ACLU’s Santa Cruz chapter on Thursday March 3rd at 7 pm at Parish Hall in Holy Cross Church. The topic of the forum will be, America’s Failed Drug War – Santa Cruz & the National Debate.
“Our project is thrilled to be here in Santa Cruz, a community that has been an epicenter of reform and debate regarding recent threats to civil liberties,? said Graham Boyd, Director of the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project. “We want to know how people in Santa Cruz feel about our nation’s drug laws, and we are excited to begin that dialogue at the community forum on March 3rd.?

The DLRP will present information about its litigation and public education programs at the community forum co-hosted with the ACLU Santa Cruz chapter. The forum will be moderated by the DLRP’s Director, Graham Boyd, and will consist of a panel of attorneys and advocates on the DLRP staff. They will give brief remarks and then facilitate a discussion with the audience on various aspects of drug laws and policies relevant to the Santa Cruz community.

The ACLU Drug Law Reform Project (DLRP) conducts litigation and public education nationwide to challenge civil liberties and civil rights violations arising from current drug laws and policies, known as the “war on drugs.? The DLRP uses its lawsuits to advocate at the local, state, and federal level for a drug policy premised on personal autonomy and responsibility, privacy, freedom, and fairness, where the government’s responses to drug use and non-violent drug activity are limited to the provision of voluntary, effective, and equally available drug treatment programs and accurate, science-based drug information. The DLRP promotes a drug policy, in which no one goes to prison or is otherwise under the control of the criminal justice system for non-violent drug activity or for being addicted to drugs, and scientific research about the benefits and harms of drug use can proceed free from government repression or interference.

The DLRP currently has three active cases. In the first, the DLRP represents ten African American residents of Hearne, Texas who were arrested as part of a drug sweep in which the local drug task force arrested almost 15% of the town’s young black men based on the now-discredited word of a confidential informant (Kelly v. Paschall). The DLRP also represents 19 students who were held at gunpoint and detained in a swat-style drug raid conducted by local police in the hallways of their high school in Goose Creek, South Carolina, based on the principal’s hunch that one student may have brought marijuana into the school (Alexander v. Goose Creek). Finally, the DLRP represents a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst who has filed an application with the Drug Enforcement Administration challenging the federal government’s obstruction of medical marijuana research and seeking to end its monopoly on the legal production of marijuana used by scientists in government-approved studies (In the Matter of Lyle Craker).

Additionally, the DLRP has argued several cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging the random, suspicionless drug testing of students, advocating for doctors’ rights to discuss and recommend medical marijuana to their patients, and challenging the federal government’s jurisdiction over medical marijuana dispensaries deemed legal under state law.

“I want to urge people from throughout the County to attend the March 3rd forum, both to learn about the DLRP’s important work and to influence its future direction," said Sarah Rabkin, one of the co-chairs of the ACLU Santa Cruz Chapter. “We are excited about the new dimensions and opportunities their presence brings to civil liberties activism in our community.?

Santa Cruz County's ACLU chapter is the 2004 Dick Criley Outstanding Chapter Award recipient. This award is presented by the ACLU-Northern California affiliate each year to the chapter that has "demonstrated a strong commitment to grassroots activism and achieved extraordinary success in organizing grassroots work on important civil liberties issues." Coming from the affiliate with the most active chapter structure in the nation, the Criley award represents a particularly high honor. Seeing a 145% increase in membership over the past six years, the Santa Cruz ACLU has brought speakers and programs of national prominence to the community on a range of civil liberties issues, including reproductive rights issues, prisoners' rights and prison reform, terrorism and the patriot act, gay marriage, and now drug policy.

Additional resources are available at: For information on the ACLU Santa Cruz Chapter, visit:

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Re: America's Failed Drug War: Santa Cruz and the National Debate

I admire the ACLU's drug law reform dept for their mission, but really - what's the point?

We've had municipal laws passed. We've had state laws passed. We've had Supreme Court decisions made.

All in favor of merely partial legalization for medical use.

What did it get us, each time?

Nothing. SWAT teams still attacked, doors were still kicked in, gardens were still torn up with chain saws, raids continue.

The SCPD and county Sherrif should have protected the citizens that pay their salaries, but they step aside and let the federal soldiers invade, attack, and escape each time.

Dubya once referred to the United Nations as "irrelevant". Tell me, in an era when city, county, and state law can be trampled by federal goons acting in clear violation of the US Constitution, while our local cops betray us by letting the feds do as they please,

tell me, how is the ACLU relevant anymore?

It's pointless to appeal to the referee, when the other team just ignores his rulings altogether.


ACLU--Where are you?

The LOCAL ACLU is silent on the LOCAL Drug War, LOCAL attacks on peace activists, LOCAL Patriot Act potential abuses, and other LOCAL civil and human rights struggles.

I'm particularly familiar with its evasions re: homeless civil rights and the sleeping ban. They've stalled and evaded the issue, brought to them more than a decade ago, but most recently in respectful formal fashion in October 2003.
Too busy, we'll form a subcommittee, forgot about it, etc.

When every other organization in town came out in favor of repealing the City's code against the homeless (no sleeping on any public property and on much private property 11 PM to 8:30 AM) back in the late 90's, the ACLU was silent.

Since 1997,the ACLU has repeatedly ducked doing any legal challenge to the Sleeping Ban or the river curfew, or the park curfews, or the Downtown Ordinances. Or providing any consistent legal support to homeless people locally. The ACLU had nothing to say when the Rotkin Council beheaded and trashed the Citizen's Police Review Board.

I understand local membership in the ACLU has escalated since 9-11 (up 145% they say above). Yet ACLU's public presence on local issues is completely off the radar.

ACLU use of national issued to fund-raise while it steers clear of local abuses is outrageous. I think old-timers like Dick Criley and Francis Heisler would have been ashamed and angry.

Is this because of incestuous ties with City Council sell-outs like Rotkin? Or a fundamental class bias?

ACLU did hold an abstract forum about the national Patriot Act chaired by non other than the great local civil libertarian Mike Rotkin. The same Rotkin who, with Kennedy and Porter, killed any attempt to establish local protections against the Patriot Act, such as Arcata, Palo Alto, and San Francisco have.

As to the fight against the drug war, where's the ACLU in attacking bogus prosecutions, the immense waste of taxpayer money, and the class-biased LOCAL prosecutions? Nowhere to be seen.

How about some local stats on how many people are incarcerated for simple possession or sales of marijuana? Last time I approached District Attorney Bob Lee for stats on this, he informed the computers were down, or were being changed.

I don't entirely agree with "Frustrated" that local action is useless--if there actually were some local action.

After all our local action in a county-wide Initiative declaring Medical Marijuana legal was followed three years later by the state's Proposition 215. More important a local cannabis club opened up on Maple St. and operated continuously--feds and state narcs not withstanding for five years or so.

Local action can have real impact, if there is any real interest in restoring civil liberties locally.

CHP officials are threatening to shut down "Peace Friday" on the Branciforte freeway
[See "39 Cities Call for Peace" story on the local interest section of the OPen Newswire.]

Folks attending the Drug Policy forum, might want to raise these uncomfortable questions before throwing money and support to ACLU locals who shun local civil liberties concerns like the plague.

Re: America's Failed Drug War: Santa Cruz and the National Debate

Federal Law supercedes state law,and state law supercedes local law.The federal cops are enforcing federal law.If the local cops tried to stop them they'dbe committing federal crimes.
I think the drug laws are unconstitutional but the only constitutional ways to change them are to challenge them through the courts,or through new congressional legislation.The idea the ACLU program isn't serious becaue the ACLU isn't involved in every local issue is naive and uninformed.The ACLU is a volunteer organization .If local Attorneys aren't volunteering to do constitutional cases locally ,pro bono that's not a reflection on the national ACLU. That said ,I'm extremely frustrated tha I can'tget ACLU representation I was pulled over illegally by cops who wanted to search me for drugs-I didn't agree so they took my car.,TheY had no legitimate probable cause.Thsi stuff happens so muchi

location of Holy Cross Church

Holy Cross Church in Santa Cruz is located at:
126 High St.


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