Buzz Kill


When Congress tries to burn the Bill of Rights, its motto is “If at first you don’t succeed, strike another match.” With the Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act of 1999 bogged down in the House Judiciary Committee, lawmakers have introduced a similar new bill in both houses. The Ecstasy Anti-Proliferation Act takes aim at other drugs but keeps its predecessor’s free-speech-destroying measures.

Several senators from each party, led by Democrat Bob Graham of Florida, apparently had their aides do a find-and-replace on the Meth Act, changing each occurrence of methamphetamine to Ecstasy or GHB. In addition to providing another $5 million for the War on Drugs and calling for stiffer penalties for anyone who makes or sells the substances in question, the resulting bill would outlaw the distribution of a wide range of drug info.

“If citizens didn’t already distrust the government’s statements concerning certain drugs, it should now become crystal-clear that the government is engaged in a true wartime propaganda campaign,” says Richard Glen Boire, the attorney who recently prepared a legislative analysis of the bill for the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics. “Along with the other civil liberties that have been blown to bits in the war, we can now add the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech.”

Boire and others are upset mainly over the section of the bill that makes it a felony to “distribute by any means information pertaining to, in whole or in part, the manufacture, acquisition, or use of a controlled substance”—if the distributor should have known someone would use the information to commit a crime. Each offense could net a huge fine and 10 years in the slammer.

So what counts as an offense? With such a broad, vague law, that’s anyone’s guess, but it surely won’t be safe to put up a Web site telling how to use pot for medicinal purposes. Posting safety guidelines for people who plan to drop Ecstasy could land you behind bars. And publishing books about how to make speed or grow magic mushrooms? Not advisable. Michael Hoy, whose company, Loompanics, publishes such material, says the law would prompt him to pull his drug books off the market. “This is insane,” he says. “You can’t solve problems by throwing people in prison for talking.”

Too bad nobody told that to the United Nations. The Ecstasy Act is the logical outgrowth of a call-to-censorship issued by the UN. In alittle-noticed 1997 report, the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board urged member nations to criminalize speech that doesn’t toe the antidrug line. The report urges countries to punish citizens who use “any type of media”—including the Net and books—to challenge drug laws or to incite people to use illicit drugs.

Despite the UN’s reputation for Milquetoast efforts, the Narcotics Control Board shows signs of gearing up to take action. At a New York press conference in June, the board’s head, Pino Arlacchi, announced that the group was trying to establish “universal jurisdiction” in order to bust not just the global drug trade but also people who use the Internet to “disseminate information about drugs.” The UN’s top narc explained, “These views are spreading, and we are now thinking about some instrument to at least stop the expansion of this flow of information.”

If those in power have their way, publishing information about drugs will be a felony, and running a Web site calling for drug legalization will be a violation of international law, alongside genocide and other war atrocities. “This is precisely what one would expect from a policy that prides itself on zero tolerance and employs metaphors of war,” Boire says. “Rather than intolerance and war, it’s time to try a drug policy of respect and true education. Until we rethink our policy toward drugs, we will see only mounting casualties of human freedom, civil rights, and the environment.”

Somebody arrest that man!

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 25, 2000

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