Pubdate: Wed, 02 Jun 2004
Source: Associated Press (Wire)
Copyright: 2004 Associated Press


Washington - A judge said Wednesday that a federal law aimed at restricting 
the display of paid, pro-marijuana ads in buses and subway stations is 
unconstitutional, improperly infringing on free speech rights.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman came in a lawsuit 
challenging the law that cuts off up to $3.1 billion in federal funds to 
local transit authorities if they display ads promoting the legalization or 
medical use of marijuana or other drugs.

Fearing a loss of at least $85 million in federal aid, the Washington 
Metropolitan Area Transit Authority earlier this year declined to run ads 
submitted by the American Civil Liberties Union and three drug advocacy 
groups. The groups then filed suit, calling it an unconstitutional restriction.

The Transportation Department, which was named in the lawsuit along with 
Washington Metro, argued in part that it had a right to enforce the statute 
because it served to deter illegal activity or a "significant threat to the 
public welfare."

But Friedman said the law, which took effect in February, represented an 
unconstitutional exercise of Congress' spending power because it unfairly 
punished a particular viewpoint.

"Just as Congress could not permit advertisements calling for the recall of 
a sitting mayor or governor while prohibiting advertisements supporting 
retention, it cannot prohibit advertisements supporting legalization of a 
controlled substance while permitting those that support tougher drug 
sentences," Friedman stated.

Graham Boyd, director of the ACLU Drug Policy Litigation Project, said, 
"The court ruled that Americans have a right to hear the message that 
marijuana prohibition has been a cruel and expensive failure."

A spokesperson for the Transportation Department did not immediately return 
a message Wednesday evening.

Washington Metro is the only city transit authority named in the lawsuit, 
but the groups that filed it said San Francisco and New York could stand to 
lose at least $100 million and $75 million respectively if they accept paid 
ads which are seen as promoting marijuana or other drug use.
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