Drug Users Caught At Denver Parks Will Be Banned For 90 Days

By McCarton Ackerman 09/16/16

The recently launched six-month program has the ACLU crying foul against Denver Parks and Recreation.

Drug Users Caught At Denver Parks Will Be Banned For 90 Days

Denver is undertaking a controversial new initiative that could result in jail time for people using illegal drugs in parks.

The city’s local NBC affiliate reported that Denver Parks and Recreation has launched the six-month program, mainly focused on the Cherry Creek Trail, and has even received support from the Denver Police Department in doing so.

As of Aug. 31, anyone selling, possessing, using or buying drugs on the greenway will be banned from Denver parks for 90 days and issued a suspension notice by parks officials. If they’re caught returning to the park during that time, they could receive a $999 fine and a one-year jail sentence.

The program is scheduled to end on Feb. 26 of next year, but depending on its results, there is a possibility it could become permanent. 

“The Cherry Creek bike trail has become a hub for drug sales and use, jeopardizing the public’s ability to safely enjoy one of Denver’s signature amenities in our outdoor recreation system,” said the city’s Parks department in a statement. “The purpose of the directive is to protect public health and parkland, increase safety and improve the overall experience for trail users.”

But some say that punishments and a threat of jail time will only funnel drug use elsewhere, insisting that treatment is the only way to address these low-level, non-violent offenses. 

“All it’s going to do is push people underground where they can’t be reached or to the suburbs or somewhere else,” said Deidre Tygart, outreach coordinator for the Stout Street Foundation. “The justice system is a great way to compel people to take that step [into treatment]. Rather than banishing them from parks or trails or those kinds of public places, send them to treatment.”

Roughly 3,500 needles have been collected in public parks throughout Denver in 2016, according to the Denver PostDenver police have also made 128 felony arrests along the Cherry Creek Trail, mostly on suspicion of selling drugs. 

But regardless of the issue of rising drug use in Denver parks, the American Civil Liberties Union has objected to the approach and questioned whether the parks director has the legal right to enforce it.

“The parks director has the authority to ban activities (and) has the authority to ban uses in the park. The executive director does not have the authority to ban people,” said Mark Silverstein, legal director for ACLU of Colorado, to the Denver Post. “There are already laws that forbid the targeted behavior. The city apparently finds those laws inconvenient because they require the due process (guaranteed in) the Bill of Rights to enforce them.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.