Drug War Censorship

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The omnibus spending bill the House approved yesterday includes a provision that would withhold federal money from transit systems that accept ads critical of drug prohibition. Rep. Ernest Instook (R-Okla.) added the language, which would penalize transit agencies "involved directly or indirectly with any activity…that promotes the legalization or medical use" of prohibited substances, in response to ads in D.C.'s Metro system sponsored by the drug policy reform group Change the Climate. In addition to the ban on criticism of the drug war, his amendment punishes the Metro system by taking $92,500 out of its budget. Istook was particularly offended by a poster that urged Metro riders to "enjoy better sex" by "legaliz[ing] and tax[ing] marijuana."

Upsetting people like Istook may have been the whole point. Joseph White, executive director of Change the Climate, told DRCNet's Drug War Chronicle he was "stunned" to hear about the amendment but added: "One one level, we are grateful to Congressman Istook for bringing these issues so clearly to the forefront. This gives us an opportunity to present our views and contrast them with his."

But as White noted, the attempt to censor anti-prohibition speech is clearly unconstitutional under Supreme Court and circuit court rulings that treat transit system ad space as a public forum in which discrimination based on viewpoint is forbidden. Indeed, Change the Climate is fighting the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's refusal to sell it ad space on First Amendment grounds, and it was the prospect of such litigation that conviced the D.C. system to accept the group's messages.

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  1. Isn’t there something goofy that allows them to regulate things like that in DC? IIRC, Bob Barr got through something that prevented the counting of votes in a referrendum for medical cannabis. Or was that overturned as well?

  2. The 10th circuit court next door in Colorado ruled that Utah laws saying that restaurants & bars (private clubs) could not advertise that they sell booze were unconstitional.

    The first amendment applies even here in Utah. Who knew?

    So there may be a precedent.

  3. I’m not sure about legalizing and taxing marijuana (or the connection to better sex)…how about just decriminalizing and leaving it (us) alone?

  4. For some of us, not only does MJ lead to better sex, bet it has wonderful influences on the relationship in general. Snuggling up with the giggles on a cold winter night with a cup of hot chocolate and a good movie makes for a strong family environment. I shudder to think that Istook’s view of a good family night is Scrabble, a newspaper, his slippers, a fat cigar, and a snifter of brandy.

  5. If I’m reading this correctly, sounds like Change the Climate is due to get additional free publicity as they take this to the Supreme Court. Hopefully Change the Climate chose the perfect name for themselves.

  6. Chuck–

    What’s wrong with making the argument on all fronts? There’s no shortage of folks pointing out the many injustices of the drug war (sadly, there is a shortage of people who are listening)…so what if one group decides to float the idea that maybe smoking pot can enhance certain aspects of life? Considering the fact that I can’t watch more than half an hour of TV without seeing a government-sponosored ad telling me how pot will ruin my life, I think that airing the opposite (and in my experience, more accurate) viewpoint is a worthwhile endeavor.

  7. Yhe problem here is public funding, not censorship.

  8. not some crusade to persuade people that dope-smoking is fun.

    but dope smoking is fun, and that’s why we do it. For 99.9% of glaucoma-free pot users it’s no more necessary than sex, liquor, or bowling. It’s an activity you may or may not enjoy. It’s illegal, but so are a lot of things we generally don’t care about.

    “dangerous public health message,” that marijuana is “a dangerous drug,” and that it is full of “cancer-causing agents”

    “I’ll think about that next time I’m reporting on how the Miller car is doing in the Winston 500.”

  9. ad telling me how pot will ruin my life

    The message I take away from most of that advertising – except that abhorrent bit about how when you buy pot from farmers in Vermont you’re supporting terrorists…damned evil farmers – includes:

    * don’t smoke pot while babysitting a four year old
    * don’t smoke pot while driving
    * don’t smoke pot all the damned time, day in and day out, until all drive is sapped from you
    * don’t let your parents (or cops) find your stash

    All relatively worthwhile messages for the pot-smoking public, I think. The advertising has, however, been wholly ineffective in demonstrating how marijuana is bad in and of itself. They can’t, because it isn’t. We know this, so we smoke it.

  10. I hope and pray this goes the distance, all the way to the Supreme Court.

    Larry Flint changed the nature of satire in this country and we are all better for it.

    I don’t know if there are many who will avail themselves of the freedom to publicize the message that smoking dope can improve your lifestyle, but a victory in the high court would be a great first step. We have had precious few victories and little to hope for in the war on the war on drugs.

  11. Pot is popular and profitable. I’m surprised tobacco companies are not planning or lobbying to legalize marijuana. The tobacoo companies have the smoking business model already in place: growers, packers, distributors, advertisers, and buyers.

    Lots of marijuana is grown in Canada and Mexico. Let’s bring those jobs back to the USA. Support American farmers and American jobs! Buy American pot. 🙂

    Selling pot might actually IMPROVE the tobacoo companies’ public image. In fact, if marijuana is more profitable and/or more popular than tobacoo, this might be a way for all those anti-smoking people to REDUCE the production and sale of tobacco!

  12. >>except that abhorrent bit about how when you buy pot from farmers in Vermont you’re supporting terrorists…damned evil farmers

  13. We have had precious few victories and little to hope for in the war on the war on drugs.

    Warren – whither there be demand, materiel, and a supply chain, there will be supply. Have faith in the market, it’s the real part. The rest of it is vain, empty moralizing by glorified lawyers in expensive suits. The war on drugs cannot defeat the market for drugs. The latter is a relentless, sinusoidal mathematical entity; the former is a reactive, decrepit posture whose inherent worthlessness grows more and more apparent with each passing election.

  14. I love da chronic!!!!!!

  15. What better way to punish Change the Climate, than to make life a little more inconvenient for the people who bag groceries at Safeway on L Street?

  16. Brian–

    We shouldn’t give any ammo to the other side. Too many NORML types come off as self-interested loutish potheads, rather than concerned citizens. As long as the broader public feels as if marijuana legalizers don’t share our values, we’ll never get anywhere.

    If we want to argue over which weed is the smoothest or which produces the best buzz, that’s fine–on our own time. In the meantime, eyes on the prize: convincing people that the drug war (a) isn’t working and (b) is punishing innocent people and ruining their lives.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to promote the facade that after prohibition, no one will use drugs. I think we need people who are successful in mainstream society to come out as functioning potheads.

    What I’m against is the fetishization of the substance and the mindless celebration of its qualities insofar as it distracts us from the POLITICAL issue of decriminalization.

  17. the people who bag groceries at Safeway on L Street?

    The hardest aspects of the lives of our gov’t “representatives” consists of battling the forces that seek to take power from them. These people are no more cogniscent of the real, pressing troubles of grocery baggers and waiters than they are of Arctic icthyology. Their image of crack addiction comes from testimony and photo-op tours. They do not act with a mind towards the repercussions of their actions, merely the justification. And for Istook, the fact that his gentle, Mormon sensibilities were offended by a message he didn’t agree with is more important than any repercussions – including the costs of litigation that will likely dwarf Metro’s overall fed funding – could possibly be.

  18. I’m all for pot and for putting an end to the drug war, but Joe has a good point. Pot or no pot, this provision doesn’t penalize Metro because Metro (like other transit systems) isn’t a private company, but is funded by taxpayer dollars. I’ll bet Metro isn’t just going to go without its $92K–it will recoup that loss through increased user fees or higher local taxes–it’s the people who rely on public transportation who will end up paying here for the advertising practices of transit officials, be those practices right or wrong.

    Say what you will about the merits of public transportation in general–but don’t this $92K isn’t money saved.

  19. Chuck:
    I agree. I’m not sure why legalization folks do not tie in the war on drugs with the war on blacks. Just say NO was to both pot and empowering innner city black men from creating an urban paradise by running smoke shoppes like the ones in Amsterdam and enriching both their communities and the culture of the entire US.

    Instead, the drug war has created two generations of black male felons who are unable to get a good job regardless of intelligence or ability.

    And now the biggest Drug War supporters seem to be black preachers. I guess they’re worried that if the black community is doing fine socially and financially they won’t need that old time religion anymore.

  20. It’s OK, just tell her parents you were to busy blogging. SPLASH!!!

  21. Native NYer,
    Have you ever wondered why Walter Williams doesn’t “out” himself against the war on drugs?
    I’ve asked him specifically. He won’t answer.

  22. Sorry NYC, I don’t see how making the drug war in to a race issue will help. Drug issues cut across race. We’re all in this together.

  23. TRAINWRECK: I’m not sure about legalizing and taxing marijuana (or the connection to better sex)…how about just decriminalizing and leaving it (us) alone?

    SinC: We’ve already decrimmed (sic?) in 12 states. It’s flawed because it does not reduce arrests and it does not eliminate the criminally controlled market.

    New York is the most tragic example. While possession of less than four ounces should be a fine only, NYC has for three straight years arrested over 1000 people weekly for simple possession. The arrestees are taken to Rikers, booked and then released at arraignment. Along the way, they are in jail for up to 72 hours and suffer all the associated side effects such as loss of employment etc.

    Legalization for adults is the only way to eliminate arrests and also to eliminate the black market.

  24. CHUCK: I think we need people who are successful in mainstream society to come out as functioning potheads.

    SinC: Here’s a great site for doing just that.

    http://www.cannabisconsumers.org/gallery.php?gal_id=52

    Actually, you’ll see ME…smile….use the sidelinks to go to WHO ARE CCs?

    If you’re so inclined, fill out the survey and/or arrange to have your own mug added to the galleries.

  25. What’s great is that Istook is not only going to get smacked down by the Court — and it will happen — on the free speech component, by specifically targeting speech that advocates changing certain laws, he’s going to get smacked on the “petioning government for a redress of grievances” issue, too.

    Meanwhile, my commute will be even worse because Metro will respond to the funds cut by running even fewer goddamned trains.

  26. EMAIL: master-x@canada.com
    IP: 82.146.43.155
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    DATE: 02/27/2004 04:18:23
    What’s on your mind, if you will allow the overstatement?

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