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RALEIGH – According to a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union, North Carolina spent nearly $55 million enforcing marijuana possession laws in 2010, while statewide African Americans were arrested for marijuana possession at 3.4 times the rate of whites, despite comparable marijuana usage rates. The report, Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests, released today, is the first ever to examine state and county marijuana arrest rates nationally by race.

Statewide, North Carolina law enforcement made 20,983 marijuana arrests in 2010 – the 10th most in the nation – and marijuana possession arrests accounted for 53.6 percent of all drug arrests in North Carolina in 2010. Fifty percent of the people arrested for marijuana possession in North Carolina were African American, even though statewide African Americans comprise only 22 percent of the population – a 28 point difference.

“The war on marijuana has disproportionately been a war on people of color,” said Ezekiel Edwards, Director of the Criminal Law Reform Project at the ACLU and one of the primary authors of the report. “State and local governments have aggressively enforced marijuana laws selectively against black people and communities, needlessly ensnaring hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system at tremendous human and financial cost. The aggressive policing of marijuana is time-consuming, costly, racially biased, and doesn’t work.”

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CHARLOTTE – What types of surveillance tools are being used by law enforcement in Charlotte and cities across the country? And what safeguards can we put in place to protect the privacy of citizens?

As Charlotte officials take steps to expand the city’s camera surveillance network, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina will host a May 30 panel discussion on “The State of Surveillance” with privacy experts and a representative from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

The May 30 event is free and open to the public. Last year the ACLU of North Carolina announced the formation of a new Charlotte-area volunteer chapter.

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RALEIGH – The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (ACLU-NC) is sharply criticizing the North Carolina Senate’s passage of S.B. 594, which would require low-income parents with children under 18 years old who apply for assistance under the state’s Work First program to undergo a mandatory drug test before receiving aid.

“Forcing people in need to pay up front for an invasive test without any suspicion of drug use would be cruel, costly, and blatantly unconstitutional,” said Sarah Preston, ACLU-NC Policy Director. “All available evidence shows that North Carolina would lose more money than it would save under this proposal, since public aid recipients are less likely to use drugs than the general population and the vast majority would have to be reimbursed for their tests. If a citizen truly has a substance abuse problem and needs help, the state should help to get that person into treatment – not simply kick them and their children off of crucial support services. Current law allows the state to make drug treatment a condition to receive Work First benefits, but it does not deny much-needed assistance to low-income individuals and their family members, as this bill would so cruelly do.”

S.B. 594 requires Work First recipients to pay for the cost of the drug tests up front and the state to reimburse them once they pass. A legislative staff attorney confirmed at an April 9 Senate hearing that multiple tests would be needed to screen for all illegal substances, and the combined cost could easily exceed $100 per person. More than 21,000 people are enrolled in North Carolina’s Work First program, meaning the state could be liable for at least $2.1 million in reimbursements.

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RALEIGH – The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina is voicing its strong support for a bipartisan bill introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly this week that would place safeguards on the use of drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, in North Carolina.

“We applaud this bipartisan group of lawmakers for coming together in the interest of protecting privacy rights for all North Carolinians,” said Sarah Preston, Policy Director for the ACLU-NC. “Across the country, law enforcement agencies are greatly expanding their use of domestic drones to conduct surveillance on citizens, often without any oversight. We urge the North Carolina General Assembly to seize this opportunity to place strong safeguards and regulations on the use of drones, before this technology spreads further in North Carolina.”

H.B. 312, the “Preserving Privacy Act of 2013,” would prohibit individuals and government agencies, including law enforcement, from using a drone to gather evidence or other data on individuals without first obtaining a warrant that shows probable cause of criminal activity. The bill includes an exception that allows law enforcement to use a drone to conduct searches if the agency possesses “reasonable suspicion” that immediate action is necessary to prevent certain types of immediate harm.

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