Just say nothing
A pernicious federal bill would make free speech the latest casualty in
our phony war on drugs
Warning: the editorial you are about to read would be illegal if Senators
Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) had their way.
A little more than a month ago, Feinstein and Hatch unveiled the
Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act of 1999. Now, methamphetamine is very
bad stuff indeed, and certainly no one wants it to proliferate. But the bill
contains a frightening assault on the First Amendment -- a provision that would
make it illegal for "any communications facility" (such as this newspaper, or
your Web site) to "post, publicize, transmit, publish, link to, broadcast, or
otherwise advertise" any sort of "drug paraphernalia" or "controlled
substances." Note that this goes way beyond methamphetamine, and could even
apply to information designed to help people seeking marijuana for medical
purposes. And the term "advertise" is interesting in this context: the bill
bans anything that would "directly or indirectly advertise" drugs. What does it
mean to "indirectly advertise"? Who knows? As the American Civil Liberties
Union puts it, "There is every reason to fear that the term 'indirectly
advertise' includes mere speech about drugs or drug paraphernalia."
This ludicrous legislation runs up against a vital First Amendment principle:
that though the government may outlaw certain activities, such as the use of
some drugs, it may not outlaw speech even if such speech advocates those
activities. Last year, for instance, the courts backed organizers of the annual
pot rally on Boston Common, citing the free-speech rights of the pro-marijuana
"The Second Annual Muzzle Awards,"
News and Features, July 2).
Feinstein and Hatch refuse to recognize that right, which makes you wonder what
other parts of the Constitution they find inconvenient.
Unfortunately, their Just Say Nothing campaign has received virtually no media
coverage other than a piece published on Wired magazine's Web site in
early August, aptly headed REEFER MADNESS HITS CONGRESS. This inattention
exists despite press releases issued by both Feinstein and Hatch proudly
trumpeting their legislation. "The bill's on the fast track. It will probably
pass the Senate quickly and easily. How they're going to enforce it, God only
knows," says Rachel King, the ACLU's Washington-based legislative counsel.
In the interests of demonstrating exactly how dangerous this bill is, here
are a few links the Phoenix would be banned even from mentioning -- upon
pain of a fine and three years in prison -- if it becomes law. Clip and save:
merely possessing this editorial would not be outlawed. At least until that
particular loophole is closed, that is.
The Web site
sells an assortment of bongs and water
pipes -- "intended for tobacco smoking only by persons over the age of 18," but
no doubt adaptable to other uses as well.
The Phoenix does not advocate the use of illegal drugs, but if we or
any medium in the United States were banned from leading people to drug
information, it would be wrong. The ACLU's King goes so far as to suggest that,
under the proposed legislation, information about the medical uses of marijuana
would be illegal under federal law even in states that have approved its use --
such as Feinstein's California. That's grotesque. Of course, harder drugs raise
harder questions. The late poet Allen Ginsberg, to name just one LSD user,
spoke eloquently about the effect of hallucinogens in expanding consciousness
and spirituality. On the other hand, it's not likely that anyone has anything
good to say about a drug as dangerous as methamphetamine. But that's not the
point. The government can outlaw drugs. But it can't outlaw speech about drugs
without violating the Constitution.
A video on cultivating your own weed, Growing Sinsemilla Marijuana,
is available for purchase at
Some how-to information on purifying LSD so that it's just as good as the
stuff Timothy Leary used to drop can be found at
The "uk" means the site is based in Britain -- beyond the reach
of US law. Any US site that publishes the address or links to it, though, would
have Senators Feinstein and Hatch to answer to.
Call Senator Feinstein at her Washington office, (202) 224-3841, and let her
know what you think about her bill. Or e-mail her at
(Don't contact Hatch; it will only encourage
him.) And contact Massachusetts's senators, Ted Kennedy (202-224-4543;
and John Kerry (202-224-2742;
Let them know that this isn't the
motherhood-and-apple-pie legislation its title would suggest.
For four decades now, our government has been fighting a counterproductive war
on drugs. As in any war, free speech is one of the first casualties. Don't let
Feinstein and Hatch get away with this frontal assault on our rights.
What do you think? Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.