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NORML, Southern California ACLU Sue to Block Anaheim Ordinance Prohibiting Use of Parks by Persons With Criminal Records


May 1995

A judge in Los Angeles ruled on May 23 that he will decide the constitutionality of Anaheim's ordinance to restrict people convicted of certain drug offenses from the city's public parks (Beth Curtis, "Park Ban On Drug Offenders Fought," Orange County Register, Apr. 29, 1995, METRO, p. 1; Martin Miller, "Anaheim Law on Park Use Prompts Suit From ACLU," Los Angeles Times (Orange County edition), Apr. 29, 1995, p. B1; Deborah Belgum, "City Can't Enforce Park Law," Orange County Register, May 24, 1995, METRO, p. 1).

U.S. District Judge Gary L. Taylor issued a preliminary injunction against the city of Anaheim that they cannot enforce ordinance number 5396 until his ruling. The ruling was in a suit filed by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and the Southern California branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) (No. 95-2813 AAH) on April 28.

The plaintiffs claim that the 1993 city ordinance is unconstitutional because it violates the right to free speech and assembly. The ordinance prohibits people who have been convicted of a drug offense from coming within 50 feet of a public park for up to three years after their conviction. Violation of the law is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of six months in jail and a $1000 fine.

The suit was filed on behalf of three people who have been convicted of drug offenses and who wanted to speak at a rally in support of California's Compassionate Use Initiative. The rally was held in La Palma Park on May 25.

Craig McClain, 38, is one of the plaintiffs. McClain had three vertebrae crushed in a construction accident and has undergone six surgeries. He says that he smokes marijuana to relieve back pain that painkillers do not treat. In February he pleaded guilty to growing five marijuana plants in his home.

The suit says that the ordinance would not allow key NORML members like McClain to speak at the rally, thus limiting NORML's freedom of expression. "The absence of these NORML members from the rally will ... deprive the NORML members who can attend of their right to associate with and exchange views with the absent members," the lawsuit says.

A spokesperson for the city said the measure is necessary to decrease drug dealing activity in the park. "We believe it's constitutional," said Eleanor Egan, senior assistant city attorney for Anaheim. "It's a legitimate regulation that serves a legitimate purpose."

Mark Silverstein, a staff attorney for the ACLU, says the ordinance has the potential to limit the speech of other groups as well. "There are people hurt by this discriminatory law who have kicked drugs, done their time, and are leading exemplary lives," he said. "Furthermore, they have a powerful message to deliver about the pain of drug abuse -- particularly to young people. But if they wanted to proclaim that message here at a rally against drug abuse, the City of Anaheim would put them in jail."

[For more information about the suit, contact NORML at 1001 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 1010, Washington DC 20036, 202-483-5500.]