Pubdate: Thu, 08 Jun 2000
Source: Reason Magazine (US)
Copyright: 2000 The Reason Foundation
Contact:  3415 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Suite 400, Los Angeles, CA 90034-6064
Author: Jacob Sullum


"Doing heroin isn't as scandalous as writing about it," observes Ann Marlowe in
her memoir Stopping Time: Heroin From A to Z. Marlowe is recalling the angry
letters she received from readers who worried that an article she had written
might encourage people to use heroin.

However scandalous it may be, writing about heroin, unlike using it,
is not illegal. But a bill known as the Methamphetamine
Anti-Proliferation Act could change that.

MAPA, which was unanimously approved by the Senate in November, is
being considered by the House Judiciary Committee. Among other things,
the House version would make it a federal offense, punishable by up to
10 years in prison, "to distribute by any means information pertaining
to, in whole or in part, the manufacture or use of a controlled
substance" if one intends or knows that the information will "be used
for, or in furtherance of, an activity that constitutes a Federal crime."

The intent or knowledge requirement might let someone like Marlowe off
the hook. Likewise, a big bookseller such as Amazon could argue that
it offers guides for growing pot and synthesizing psychedelics not to
encourage those activities but simply to satisfy its customers' curiosity.

Loompanics Unlimited, which specializes in fringe titles like Secrets
of Methamphetamine Manufacture and Opium for the Masses, would have a
harder time mounting that defense. So would the authors of such books.

MAPA presumably would put an end to magazines like High Times, which
celebrates marijuana culture, publishes growing tips, advertises drug
paraphernalia, and, not incidentally, assails the war on drugs. Web
sites that discuss the medical benefits of marijuana or offer advice
for reducing the risks of drug use (say, by sterilizing needles or
using vaporizers) would also be in trouble, especially if they link to
sites that sell drug-related items. Such links are themselves
forbidden by the bill.

No one can say for sure how the law would be applied--who would be
prosecuted and who would be able to offer a successful defense. But
that is precisely the point: By its very existence, such a law would
discourage controversial speech about drugs.

The response to such criticism from MAPA's House sponsor, Rep. Chris
Cannon (R-Utah), is either dense or disingenuous. "We don't want to
beat on anyone's rights to things like free speech, but we do want to
make it clear that illicit drugs are a scourge to society," Cannon's
legislative director recently told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
"Recipes for a drug as dangerous as methamphetamine shouldn't be
available to everyone to produce in their garage or basement."

Got that? Cannon doesn't want to abridge freedom of speech; he just
wants to censor dangerous information.

It's disturbing that a piece of legislation like this one could sail
through the Senate without a peep about the First Amendment. But it's
not surprising that drug control has evolved into knowledge control.

After all, "a drug-free America," a goal repeatedly endorsed by
Congress, is a totalitarian fantasy. Those who seek to achieve it are
naturally driven to totalitarian means.

Censorship is not the only threat. Another MAPA provision authorizes
"sneak and peek" searches of people's homes. Federal agents could
execute a search without notice and make copies of papers or computer
files without furnishing a list of what they took.

Meanwhile, a combination of government mandates and corporate
eagerness to enlist in the war on drugs has made our very bodies
increasingly subject to searches aimed at determining if we have
violated any pharmacological taboos.  Glancing at a recent Wall
Street Journal op-ed piece in which criminologist James Q. Wilson said
we ought to "reduce [drug] demand through mandatory testing," I
thought for a moment that he meant every American should be forced to
urinate into a cup.

It turned out that Wilson was talking about expanding the use of drug
testing in the criminal justice system, something Al Gore endorsed
last month. Under Gore's plan, The New York Times reported, "inmates
in state prisons...would not be released until they could pass drug

Notice what this proposal concedes: Even in the regimented conditions
of prison, drug use persists. Following the drug warriors' vision of
regulated reading material and unannounced searches won't stop people
from using politically incorrect chemicals to alter their
consciousness. But it will make our society more like a prison.

Jacob Sullum's weekly column is distributed by Creators Syndicate. If
you'd like to see it in your local newspaper, write or call the
editorial page editor.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Allan Wilkinson