County Attorney Formally Asks ACLU To Stop Saying Factual Things About Pending Drug Legislation
from the please-stop-undermining-my-spin dept
A state prosecutor who claims to be supportive of lowering drug possession incarceration rates is mad at the ACLU for pointing out the legislation she’s backing doesn’t support this position at all. The ACLU’s activism has led to the county attorney’s unfortunate decision to send a formal letter to the group kindly asking it to knock it off. (via the ACLU’s Will Gaona)
In response to an online campaign, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall sent a letter to the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona asking that it “cease and desist from disseminating a misleading solicitation.”
The ACLU was “dumbfounded” by the letter, which it found to be without “legal merit,” a spokesman told the Star.
Earlier this month, the civil-rights group urged people to contact LaWall and ask her to withdraw her support for House Bill 2241, which would increase penalties for people convicted of several crimes involving certain opiates, including heroin and fentanyl.
“This is a dangerous bill that will force Arizonans suffering from drug addiction into prisons for years without treatment,” a March 19 ACLU of Arizona Facebook post reads. “Take action now and tell Barbara LaWall to publicly withdraw her support for HB 2241!”
As cease-and-desists go, LaWall’s is pretty low-key. The letter [PDF] notes LaWall is not complaining about the people who’ve contacted her office as a result of the ACLU’s post. She’s also not requesting the ACLU say nothing more about the issue. Instead, she’s asking the ACLU to correct its “misinformation.”
Contrary to the statement disseminated in the ACLUs solicitation, HB 2241 does NOT punish individual drug users who possess or use these drugs to feed their addictions, and it is highly misleading to suggest that HB 2241 would punish drug users by sending them to prison. This Bill increases the sentence for convicted drug traffickers and drug dealers who flood our community with the deadly poisons of fentanyl, carfentanyl, and heroin. It docs NOT punish those who are arrested for simple drug possession.
This is not even technically true. Under LaWall’s guidance, the county has already incarcerated people for possessing as little as one-tenth gram of heroin. Statewide, more than 20% of drug felony cases involve less than one gram. The ACLU’s opposition to the bill stems from the lack of language separating those who sell small amounts to fund their own habits from those actually “flooding” communities with large quantities of opioids. Even drugs traded for anything of value — no matter what quantity — would trigger mandatory minimum five-year sentences for those convicted.
LaWall’s letter has prompted an angry response from the ACLU, which believes the letter was sent to intimidate it into silence. All the ACLU has done is point out the flaws with the bill and that it runs contrary to LaWall’s publicly-stated support for reducing drug-related incarcerations. LaWall’s response to the ACLU’s criticism — no matter how mildly stated — is still a demand the ACLU stop making factual statements about the bill she supports.
It’s not that LaWall is unaware of these criticisms. Earlier debate on the bill produced the same criticism the ACLU is now being asked to stop: that the bill would result in more incarceration and less diversion of addicts to resource that may allow them to kick the habit and return successfully to society.
But anything drug-related — especially bills attempting to address drug overdoses — is going to be propelled more by emotion than logic, as is evidenced by this statement from a supportive state legislator.
Explaining his vote in support of the bill, state Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, said: “I don’t care how much one person hands off to another. If somebody is selling dope to my kid, I want them in prison.”
Well, let’s hope your kid doesn’t get caught with any purchased drugs, Mr. Finchem. If they do, the new law does them no favors. Considering prosecutors are viewing amounts less than a gram as felonious — with the possibility of tacking on distribution charges if Finchem’s child has shared or sold any to others — his offspring could be facing five years minimum just for purchasing enough drugs to feed their own habit. The bill doesn’t absolve purchasers, nor make it any easier for them to end up in a diversion program, rather than in jail.
The ACLU’s criticisms are valid. The county attorney’s request the ACLU stop portraying the legislation as opposed to LaWall’s stated beliefs is not. Fortunately, neither the bill nor LaWall’s demands are moving forward at this point. It’s always a bad look when public servants start telling members of the public to exercise their First Amendment rights less. But it’s even worse when this attempt starts with the public servant calling facts “misinformation.”