Saturday, December 06, 2003

Rights and Reason: Marijuana Ad On Metro Infuriates Lawmaker

I'm loath to spend much time focused on the drug war, but this Washington Post report has to be addressed:

An Oklahoma lawmaker is seeking to slice $92,500 from the federal government's annual payment to Metro because he is angry that the transit agency accepted advertising from a nonprofit group that wants to decriminalize marijuana.

Change the Climate Inc. has been using public service advertising space on the Metro system since 2001, but it was the latest round of advertising, this fall, that drew the ire of Rep. Ernest J. Istook Jr. (R-Okla.).

The ad showed a man carrying a tanned blonde in a short white dress, the two of them set against the azure sky of some tropical retreat. Under the picture appeared the declaration: "Enjoy better sex! Legalize and Tax Marijuana."

In a Nov. 10 letter to Jim Graham, chairman of the Metro board, Istook called the ad "shocking" and said the board had "exercised the poorest possible judgment, so I must assure that [Metro] will learn the proper lessons from this experience and will only accept appropriate ads in the future."

This week, Istook inserted into a bill language that would cut Metro's funds by $92,500 and prohibit any transit system that receives federal funds from running advertising from a group that wants to decriminalize marijuana. The money is just a fraction of the federal government's $164 million subsidy to Metro for capital projects.

The language is part of an omnibus bill expected to come before Congress for a vote in late December or January.

"Metro is using taxpayer facilities to promote illegal activity," said Micah Swafford, Istook's press secretary.
I think campaigns like the Change the Climate bus ad project are silly--they fail to address the real issues behind the misbegotten drug war, but it's Rep. Istook's conduct that shocks me. WMTA routinely donates ad space to nonprofit organizations. To demand WMTA deny Change the Climate ad space on the grounds that a congressman disagrees with their policy position is patently offensive. If CAC ran an advertising campaign calling for the abolition of the antitrust laws, would Istook seek to squelch CAC? What possible distinction can Istook draw between any citizen's group that seeks the repeal of any law they take issue with, and the Change the Climate ad campaign?

More and more, I grow weary of the Republicans. I'm sick of their utter contempt for the principle of individual rights, and I'm sick of how that contempt manifests itself in government encroachment after government encroachment of our most basic freedoms.

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