House panel strips free-speech restrictions from drug bills

Wednesday, July 26, 2000

The House Judiciary Committee yesterday approved revamped versions of
bills designed to strengthen penalties against those who deal in
methamphetamines and ecstasy, after it removed free-speech restrictions from
both measures.

“The Judiciary Committee bravely withstood pressure to expand some of
the worst elements of the so-called war on drugs,” said Marvin Johnson,
legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.

After numerous delays over the past three months, the committee
approved a series of amendments to the bill, now called the Methamphetamine and
Club Drug Anti-Proliferation Act of 2000, before passing the entire measure on
a voice vote.

The original Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act, sponsored in the
Senate by Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and in the House by Chris Cannon, R-Utah, would
have banned the publishing of drug-making instructions. The Senate approved the
bill last November, saying the legislation would bolster federal and state
investigators’ abilities to combat the drug.

An original provision of the bill would have made it a felony to
“teach, demonstrate or distribute any information pertaining to the manufacture
of a controlled substance” such as those classified by the government as
Schedule 1 drugs.

Hatch and Cannon said they designed the bill to target the actual
production of methamphetamine, a drug easily made with basic laboratory
equipment. They warned that the drug could become the next epidemic, noting
that law enforcement agents had busted more than 250 such labs last year in
Utah alone.

Cannon said the provisions governing online information only would
have affected those who had a criminal intent.

But free-speech and drug activists disagreed.

They said the bill, if passed as originally written, would have made
it illegal to discuss legal uses of marijuana, such as hemp clothing, and would
have outlawed other discussions, including those on medicinal marijuana and
medical concerns about other Schedule I drugs.

“The fact that any elected official would even consider the
possibility of making it illegal to distribute information under any
circumstance is, to me, egregious beyond words,” said Mark Greer, executive
director of DrugSense. “The fact that
it actually got into committee is even more worrisome.”

Press officers for Cannon did not return phone calls today.

Amid debate, a second drug bill, the Ecstasy Anti-Proliferation Act,
surfaced in both the Senate and the House. Mostly a carbon copy of the
methamphetamine bill, the ecstasy measure also would create a number of new
federal drug offenses.

In its actions yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee, with a 15-12
vote, narrowly approved an amendment from Reps. Bob Barr, R-Ga., and Tammy
Baldwin, D-Wis., to remove the speech elements from the bill. The committee
also removed from the bill references to secret searches.

But the ACLU and the National
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws expressed disappointment that
the bill still included a provision that would create new federal drug

“Despite recent groundbreaking reports showing that minorities are far
more likely to be targeted under harsh federal drug laws than whites
accused of the same crimes, some members of Congress appear to be saying that no
cost is too high when it comes to cultivating a tough-on-crime image,” said
Rachel King of the ACLU.