Istook's Illegal Amendment

On February 18, the Marijuana Policy Project joined with three other national organizations in a lawsuit aimed at overturning one of the most egregious attacks on free speech in decades. Anyone who values our democracy -- Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal -- should hope we succeed.

Our organizations attempted to buy a billboard ad on Washington, D.C.'s Metro public transit system questioning the wisdom of our nation's marijuana laws. The ad was rejected, not because of any Metro policy, but because federal law now makes any such advertising effectively illegal on public transit systems. Our suit seeks to have this law, put into effect by an amendment sponsored by Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK), declared unconstitutional.

The "Istook Amendment" -- attached to the recently-enacted spending bill -- denies federal funding to any transit agency that allows the display of any advertisement supporting "the legalization or medical use" of marijuana or any other drug listed in Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act.

Why should you care?

Because 75 years ago, America's mothers and grandmothers organized to repeal Prohibition. They did this not because they wanted their children to drink, but because they saw that the attempt to ban alcoholic beverages caused far more harm than it prevented. Prohibition didn't stop people from drinking. It simply handed the liquor trade over to gangsters, sent the violent crime rate through the roof and put children in more danger than ever.

We should all be grateful that those moms succeeded.

The Marijuana Policy Project exists to minimize the harm associated with marijuana, and -- just like the mothers who organized against Prohibition -- we believe an honest look at the facts shows marijuana prohibition to be a deadly, destructive failure.

Apparently, the message that marijuana prohibition has failed is so powerful that the federal government has resorted to silencing those who wish to convey it. While it is more than willing to spend our taxpayer dollars plastering the DC Metro and other public transit systems with ads supporting prohibition, it is afraid to let private groups buy ad space to say, "Wait a minute. This isn't working."

The truth is the government is silencing us because they know that we are right.

We are right when we say law enforcement resources would be better directed toward preventing and investigating violent crimes, rather than arresting marijuana smokers.

We are right when we say it is illogical to arrest people for smoking marijuana when every major government study on the subject has concluded that marijuana is far less harmful -- to the user and to society -- than alcohol.

And we are right when we join with American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Nurses Association to say that marijuana can be an effective medicine for seriously ill patients.

So, the battle over the Istook Amendment is a battle to protect our First Amendment rights, but this is part of a larger war to reform this nation's illogical marijuana laws. And just as we have no doubt that we will succeed in this lawsuit, we are equally certain that, in time, we will win the war as well.

Steve Fox, Director of Government Relations for the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, is the father of two children, ages one and two.

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