Marijuana-legalization ads posted recently in Metro buses and subway
stations have prompted an Oklahoma congressman to propose legislation
making it illegal for transit agencies that accept federal dollars to
give advertising space to groups that advocate breaking the law.

Rep. Ernest Istook, Republican, cited "grave concern and displeasure"
at the public service announcements placed on Metro buses and
throughout area subway stations during October by Change the Climate,
a Massachusetts-based nonprofit group.

Mr. Istook took particular exception to a marijuana-legalization ad
showing a young couple embracing, and the caption "Enjoy Better Sex!"

"At a time when the nation and the Washington D.C. area, in
particular, suffer from chronic substance abuse ... I find it shocking
that [the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority] provides
this ad space, and at no cost!" Mr. Istook wrote in a letter to Jim
Graham, chairman of the Metro Board and a D.C. Council member..

The Metro ads prompted the congressman, who chairs the House
Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee, to add language to an
appropriations bill prohibiting federally subsidized transit agencies
from giving ad space to organizations that tout legalizing drugs.

"Since [Metro] has the resources to provide $46,250 in free ad space
for this very advertising," Mr. Istook wrote, "I have to wonder why
[Metro] should expect to receive the $67,050,000 in federal funding."

The new language Mr. Istook inserted into the transportation
legislation states that federal funds will not be available if a
transit agency "is involved directly or indirectly with any activity
. that promotes the legalization or medical use" of illegal drugs.

Mr. Istook wants to eliminate $92,500 in federal funding to Metro "as
a warning to other transit agencies," according to the
legislation.

"I think it's a moot point," Mr. Graham said yesterday, referring to
Mr. Istook's amendment. "As of Jan. 1, we will not be considering any
more public-service announcements, except as the local jurisdictions
sponsor them.

"In terms of losing the $92,500, I think that is petty and punitive,"
he said. "I think there would have been a better appreciation of the
dilemma we were in."

Metro recently reduced the space reserved for public service ads from
13 percent to 5 percent, with Maryland, the District and Virginia now
handling their own public-service announcements.

Metro Board member Carlton Sickles, who represents Montgomery County,
said the transit agency would abide by the new rules if federal
lawmakers approve the legislation, which they will consider when the
House reconvenes next week. However, Mr. Sickles said the board would
not make any policy changes until that happens.

"It seems to me that this sort of legislation always gets very
controversial and that it tends to get stuck in committee," he said.
"I don't know where this is going at the moment, but we'll be watching
it carefully."

Metro had rejected the ad campaign by Change the Climate two years
ago, but reversed its position after the American Civil Liberties
Union interceded on the group's behalf.

Both Mr. Graham and Mr. Sickles said Metro had accepted the recent ads
from Change the Climate because Metro's attorneys said the transit
agency likely would be sued if it refused.

"These nonprofits would have been very happy to have had a public
controversy and to go to court," Mr. Graham said.

Mr. Sickles said, "You have to take what they give you. If you're
going to accept the advertising, in terms of public-service ads,
you've got take them all."

However, not all transit agencies agree. In Boston, Change the Climate
lost in court when it sued the Massachusetts Bay Transportation
Authority for the right to post its ads.

"We felt that it was promoting an illegal activity," said Joseph
Pesaturo, spokesman for the Boston-based transit agency. "Since we
have a very captive audience in our stations made up of a lot of young
people, we weren't comfortable with that.

"The group sued claiming the usual violations of free speech. A U.S.
District Court judge ruled in our favor."

Local education activists said they were concerned about the
pro-marijuana ads because most D.C. school children use Metro to get
to and from school, but they had mixed feelings about Mr. Istook's bid
to make Metro to stop running them.

"I would rather see local authorities handling this issue, said Mary
Levy, and analyst with Parents United, an advocacy organization that
works to improve conditions in D.C. schools.

"When you try to regulate things by content, it is a very tricky
business under the First Amendment," Miss Levy said. "At the same
time, when I saw the huge [pro-marijuana] ad that said 'Have Better
Sex', I had to wonder what we're saying to our children about drugs
and about sex."

"Generally, I don't advocate censorship," said Iris Toyer, chairwoman
of Parents United. "But I have son in the sixth grade, and when it
comes to this issue, I have to approach things with my 'parent hat'
on."


Pubdate: Tue, 02 Dec 2003
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Copyright: 2003 News World Communications, Inc.
Contact: letters@washingtontimes.com
Website: http://www.washingtontimes.com/