Pubdate: Wed, 01 Dec 2004
Source: Kansas City Star (MO)
Copyright: 2004 The Kansas City Star
Author: Denise Lavoie, Associated Press
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


BOSTON - A federal appeals court has ruled that Boston's mass-transit
agency violated free-speech rights by refusing to display
advertisements from a group that wants to legalize marijuana.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority rejected three ads
submitted by the group Change the Climate in 2000, claiming they
encouraged children to smoke pot. The transit authority argued that it
has the right to protect riders from offensive or illegal messages.

But the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found Monday that the MBTA,
a quasi-government agency, does not have the right to turn down ads
based on its viewpoint. Doing so violates the First Amendment, the
court ruled.

"MBTA advertising space is literally a billboard for the expression of
opinions to citizens at large. As a government agency, they shouldn't
have the right to pick and choose what opinions they allow to be
advertised," said Harvey Schwartz, an attorney for Change the Climate.

The ads at the center of the dispute question marijuana laws and
penalties for people arrested on minor possession charges.

"I've got three great kids," reads one ad. "I love them more than
anything. I don't want them to smoke pot. But I know jail is a lot
more dangerous than smoking pot."

MBTA General Manager Michael Mulhern says the ads sent a bad

"We felt that the ads promoted illegal drug use, and furthermore, we
felt that the ads targeted youngsters," Mulhern said.

The transit agency provides public transportation to approximately 1.2
million customers per day on subways, trains, buses and ferries. Up to
60,000 Boston public school students use the MBTA. The agency has
about 40,000 advertising spaces.

Over the years, the agency has received numerous complaints from its
riders about advertisements. In the five-year period before the
lawsuit was filed by Change the Climate, the MBTA rejected at least 17
advertisements barred by its ad policy, including some depicting
violence, profanity and tobacco products.
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