Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Author: Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Published: Thursday, June 3, 2004 - Page A - 8
Copyright: 2004 San Francisco Chronicle
Contact: [email protected]
A federal law cutting off funds to any public transit agency that runs ads calling for legalization or medical use of an illegal drug was declared unconstitutional Wednesday by a federal judge.
U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman of Washington, D.C., said the amendment attached to a $3.1 billion transportation measure, signed in January by President Bush, violated freedom of speech by banning messages based on their viewpoint.
"The government has articulated no legitimate state interest in the suppression of this particular speech other than the fact that it disapproves of the message, an illegitimate and constitutionally impermissible reason,'' Friedman said. He prohibited the government from enforcing the funding restriction.
The ruling in a suit by civil liberties and medical marijuana advocates could affect billboards and bus shelters in the Bay Area. The transit bill included $100 million for the already-completed BART airport extension and $9 million for the Municipal Railway's Third Street light-rail project in San Francisco, money those transit systems would have forfeited under the amendment if they accepted a forbidden ad.
Muni spokeswoman Maggie Lynch said her agency hasn't been asked to carry any such ads but has been advised by city lawyers that its advertising policies must abide by constitutional First Amendment standards. "We certainly would not take an ad that would interfere with our federal funding,'' she added.
Bruce Mirken, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, noted that Muni's bus shelters now carry ads, sponsored by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, suggesting that youthful marijuana use leads to a life as a derelict.
"If this amendment stood, we would be barred from putting ads in that same forum to counter that message and to engage in a political debate about the wisdom of the marijuana laws,'' Mirken said.
BART spokesman Mike Healy was unavailable for comment Wednesday, but denounced the federal ad restrictions as "blackmail of the transit industry'' when the suit was filed in February.
Officials in the White House drug office were also unavailable to speak about the ruling, which could be appealed.
The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., who took offense at pro-marijuana ads in the D.C. subway system. One ad was headlined, "Enjoy better sex!'' and called for legalizing and taxing marijuana.
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