Pubdate: Fri, 05 Dec 2003
Source: Drug War Chronicle (US Web)
Author: Phillip S. Smith, Editor
Action: Action:


Istook Provoked By Pro-Marijuana Ads on DC Metro

Change the Climate, the Massachusetts-based organization that places
public service ads touting reform of the marijuana laws on big city
transit systems, has now aroused the ire of at least one Republican
congressman, Oklahoma Rep. Ernest Istook. Enraged by an ad touting
marijuana legalization that showed a couple embracing above the
caption "Enjoy Better Sex!" that appeared on DC Metro buses and subway
stations in October (,
Istook has now moved to punish DC Metro for accepting the ad and to
censor similar ads in other transit systems that accept federal funding.

DC Metro and other transit agencies that run public service ads have
little choice but to accept Change the Climate's ads -- unless they
want an expensive and publicity-generating court battle over the
group's First Amendment rights.

Boston transit officials barred the group's ads in 2000, and they are
still in court.

DC Metro at first hesitated to accept the ads, but backed down when
Change the Climate and the American Civil Liberties Union threatened
similar action.

Such subtleties were lost on Istook, chair of the House Transportation
and Infrastructure subcommittee.

"At a time when the nation and the Washington DC area, in particular,
suffer from chronic substance abuse... I find it shocking that [the
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority] provides this ad
space, and at no cost!", Istook wrote in a letter to DC Councilman Jim
Graham, chairman of the Metro Board. "Since [Metro] has the resources
to provide $46,250 in free ad space for this very advertising," Istook
wrote, "I have to wonder why [Metro] should expect to receive the
$67,050,000 in federal funding." Neither was Istook aware of the irony
of berating Graham for DC Metro's decision.

Graham, normally a staid liberal, had himself lashed out at Metro over
the ads in October before someone explained the Constitution to him.

Jim Graham wasn't the only liberal irked by the ads. Paul Begala, one
of two liberal representatives on CNN's Crossfire, provided yet more
evidence that marijuana causes mental disorders -- in those who are
frightened of it. Begala surprised his foe, co-host Tucker Carlson, by
not only warning that the ads send a "dangerous public health
message," that marijuana is "a dangerous drug," and that it is full of
"cancer-causing agents" -- then going on to repeat, with an amazingly
straight face, one of the wildest old myths about marijuana: "There
have been many cases documented in the medical research of men
actually getting breast enhancement out of smoking pot." [At least
Begala didn't accuse marijuana of causing his hairy palms -- though
perhaps it did. :)]

Istook has now inserted language into an omnibus appropriations bill
that would eliminate $92,500 -- twice the amount of free ad space DC
Metro provided to Change the Climate -- in DC Metro funding "as a
warning to other transit agencies," according to the legislation. But
he didn't stop there. Istook also included language barring the use of
federal funds if a transit agency "is involved directly or indirectly
with any activity... that promotes the legalization or medical use" of
illegal drugs.

"I was stunned when the Washington Post called and told me Tuesday
night," said Joseph White, executive director of Change the Climate.
"On 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," he told DRCNet. "But this cannot pass constitutional
muster, and we are prepared to take our campaign to every mass transit
city in the country and challenge this on constitutional grounds."
Using Istook's maneuver as fodder, White has already begun fundraising
for similar ads in transit agencies in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles,
New York, Atlanta, Miami, St. Louis, Seattle, and, of course, Oklahoma

This battle will most likely be fought in the courts, because the
omnibus appropriations bill where Istook inserted the language in
conference committee this week will pass or fail on a single
up-or-down vote. With all federal spending at stake in the bill, it is
unlikely to be defeated.

Even more cruelly, the same bill would spend $145 million in taxpayer
dollars for anti-marijuana government propaganda.

"That's right," warned the Drug Policy Alliance in an action alert it
sent out Thursday in a last-ditch effort to kill the omnibus bill.
"Congress wants to run anti-marijuana ads with your tax money, while
at the same time banning you from using your own money to run ads in
support of marijuana law reform.

They want to prohibit you from spending money on things you believe
in, while taking money out of your paycheck to spend on things you
don't believe in. Without being able to advertise on buses, trains,
and subways, it will be very difficult for drug policy reformers to
get our message directly to the American people -- which is exactly
what the drug war extremists fear. They want to shut us up! And they
will get away with it if you don't act right now!"

Visit to see the ad that aroused
Istook from his dogmatic slumber. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake