ACLU of Oregon Blog

Democracy, Prosecutors and Criminal Justice Reform

By Executive Director David Rogers

There are some serious problems we need to tackle in our criminal justice system, like dramatic prison growth and spending in the U.S. We are dumping billions of dollars into locking people up while ignoring the strategies best designed to create safe and healthy communities. Meanwhile, the racial disparity in sentencing and incarceration rates is one of the biggest drivers of inequality for communities of color in the country.

As Oregon’s legislative session just ended, I am pleased to see meaningful progress being made on criminal justice reform. The ACLU of Oregon was active in passing legislation to tackle racial profiling, reducing employment barriers for people with conviction histories, and helping to increase police accountability. This progress was the result of democracy in action: thousands of our members and allies reaching out to their legislators to advocate for smarter justice.

But there is an element of our democratic process that is seriously malnourished and it has a direct relationship to our ability shift criminal justice policies in the right direction. I’m talking about the election of District Attorneys.

Here in Oregon, our chief prosecutors in each county are elected by a vote of the people. Yet the public doesn’t normally engage District Attorneys as elected leaders who need to be held accountable to the values we hold about what a fair, unbiased, and smart criminal justice system looks like. This dynamic needs to change.

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Criminalization of Marijuana Comes to an End in Oregon

By Executive Director David Rogers

On July 1, 2015, the possession and use of marijuana by adults over 21 years of age becomes legal in Oregon. With the passage of Measure 91 last November, the voters of Oregon sent a clear message that it is time to end the criminalization of marijuana.

Oregon has been at the forefront of marijuana reform in America. In 1973, Oregon was the first state to decriminalize possession of less than an ounce of marijuana; was one of the first states to legalize medical marijuana in 1998 and will now become one of the first states to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana for adult use. And the ACLU of Oregon was influential in bringing about each of these reforms because the War on Marijuana has been a dismal and costly failure.

The aggressive enforcement of marijuana possession laws needlessly ensnares hundreds of thousands of people into the criminal justice system and wastes billions of taxpayers’ dollars nationwide. We are at a tipping point in regard to public recognition that the war on drugs is a failed strategy.

Today, we were pleased to join with Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, New Approach Oregon executive director Anthony Johnson, and parent advocate Leah Maurer, to discuss how Oregon is helping to lead the country in developing smarter and more just drug policies. And, legalization of marijuana in Oregon is, in fact, about justice.

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What's Ahead for Legalized Marijuana?

By Andrew Thomson, Lane County Chapter board member

On Tuesday, November 4, 2014, Oregon voters approved Measure 91, ending decades of marijuana prohibition in Oregon and legalizing the cultivation, possession, and use of marijuana for adults 21 and over. This is a significant and important step on the road to repairing the damage done by the failed war on marijuana.

Beginning January 4, 2016, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission will begin reviewing applications for licensed retail outlets. Taxes from the sales of marijuana will fund the schools, public health, and law enforcement. Marijuana sales will contribute funds to these important services rather than the diversion of funds caused by enforcing prohibition.

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Oregon's Privacy Laws Need an Update

by Sarah Armstrong, Outreach Director

Privacy Equals FreedomWe are asking lawmakers to update Oregon's privacy laws and we need your help! Join us for ACLU’s Privacy Day in Salem on Monday, March 16 to help strengthen Oregon's privacy protections and limit the use of dragnet surveillance. 

We have worked with bipartisan support on package of bills to curb mass surveillance. Help to ensure that these important bills have a voice in the legislature by joining us in Salem for ACLU's Privacy Day. 

REGISTER TODAY! 

Face to face meetings with legislators are incredibly powerful – and incredibly effective. We need your help to advocate for:

•    SB 639 - Strict guidelines for the use of automatic license plate readers (ALPR) 

•    SB 640 - A warrant requirement to access email, phone, and location records 

•    SB 641 - A warrant requirement to search cell phones


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Top 8 Civil Liberties Moments of 2014

By Sarah Armstrong, Outreach Coordinator

Check out our top eight civil liberties moments in Oregon in 2014. Free speech, protection from unwarranted government snooping, ending the failed war on marijuana, marriage, and more. Wow, what a year! 

We are so thankful for your support. Here's to more great victories in 2015. Happy New Year, Oregon.

#8 - High School Student Stands Up for Free Speech in Scappoose

Long-time Scappoose High Dance Team member Marissa Harper and her mother were shocked to see a new policy that prohibited students and parents from any communication regarding any aspect of the dance team made “verbally or written via social media” or face punishment. As Oregonian reporter Helen Jung put it, "The first rule of Dance Team is you do not talk about Dance Team."

Marissa’s mother asked school officials to intervene, but when no changes were made she contacted us. Marissa made the tough choice to give up the dance team in order to stand up for free speech rights.

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Strong Mandate for Marijuana Reform Means Decriminalization Should Start Now

By Legislative Director Becky Straus

An edited version of this piece appeared in the Eugene Register Guard

Oregonians spoke loud and clear this election when they approved with over 55% of the vote Measure 91 to legalize, tax and regulate recreational marijuana for adults 21 and over. Higher tallies posted in Lane County and up and down the coast, and reached up to 71% support for the measure in Multnomah County.

We should interpret these numbers as a strong mandate: the War on Marijuana has failed and Oregonians reject prohibition. It is time for a new approach that focuses on eliminating the black market and the racial disparity in marijuana enforcement, on regulating the industry and on raising revenue for priorities like education, drug treatment and public safety.

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Undecided on Measure 88?

We urge you to vote YES on Measure 88 for safe roads

Oregon legislators from both sides of the aisle came together last year to pass the Driver Card law because they knew that it would make Oregon roads and communities safer. They voted “YES” despite differences in their views about immigration reform. They voted “YES” for thousands of Oregon parents, seniors, students, and workers who need to drive every day in our state. As Governor Kitzhaber said earlier this week, “Driver cards for safer roads was a good idea then – and it’s a good idea now.”

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Oregon Voter Guide 2014


Oregon Ballot Measure Recommendations 


Oregon ballots have arrived! We have taken positions on four ballot measures that will impact civil liberties and/or civil rights in Oregon. Please check out our recommendations -- and thank you for exercising your right to vote.

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A Great Day for Seven Americans Formerly on the No-Fly List

By Noa Yachot, Communications Strategist, ACLU

An extraordinarily secret government blacklist just got a little bit less secret.

Seven American citizens who were banned by the government from air travel received word yesterday evening that they are cleared to fly. For them, the notice ends a years-long struggle to find out why they were blacklisted and clear their names. As of last night, the seven can finally make plans to visit family, travel for work, and take vacations abroad.

The seven – six men and one women – had been on the government No Fly List, which prevented them from flying to, from, and over U.S. airspace. Even after they were surrounded by TSA agents at the airport and questioned by the FBI, the government refused to officially confirm that they were included on the list. They were also never provided reasons for being banned from air travel, or given a meaningful opportunity to contest the ban. In short, our clients have been locked in a fight to regain their freedoms with virtually no information.

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Voter ID Laws: What do they accomplish?

Guest blog post by Barbara Gordon-Lickey, a member of the ACLU of Oregon Education Committee.

Ruthelle was born at home in rural Wisconsin in 1927. She has been an elected member of her Village Board since 1996. But she has no accepted form of photo ID and no certified birth certificate.

Amanda used to be able to vote using her student ID card. But in South Carolina, student identification is no longer acceptable.  Adopted in Georgia, Amanda’s name is different from the name on her birth certificate.  Amanda has tried, unsuccessfully, to change the name on her birth certificate.  

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