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Feature: Medical Marijuana -- A Progress Report

A little more than a decade after California voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996, making it the first state to approve the use of medical marijuana, the movement continues its slow spread across the country. Now, medical marijuana is legal in 12 states (with varying degrees of protection), and roughly 50 million people -- or about one out of six Americans -- live in those states.

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federally-approved patient Irv Rosenfeld hands his empty federal medical marijuana canister to Montel Williams, while Reps. Sam Farr, Maurice Hinchey and Ron Paul observe
On the Pacific Coast, medical marijuana is legal from the Canadian border to the Mexican border (Washington, Oregon, California), as well as in Alaska and Hawaii. In the intermountain West, Colorado, Montana, and Nevada were joined this year by New Mexico as states where medical marijuana is legal. The other regional medical marijuana hotbed is the Northeast, where Maine, Rhode Island, and Vermont allow its use, and only a veto from Republican Gov. Jodi Rell kept Connecticut from joining those ranks this year.

While it may be a bit of an exaggeration to speak of a pincer movement aimed at the heartland, medical marijuana is on the move. In addition to the 12 states where it is legal, a number of other states, including Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, and New York have seen progress in state legislatures and are inching closer to approving medical marijuana. Meanwhile, a medical marijuana initiative is getting underway in Michigan, and activists are eyeing similar initiative campaigns in a handful of other states.

But at the same time, the federal government remains staunchly opposed to medical marijuana. The Justice Department and the DEA continue to harass patients and providers, especially in California, where a loosely-written Prop. 215 has led to the most wide-open medical marijuana scene in the country. While the DEA, sometimes working with recalcitrant state and local law enforcement officials, has been raiding dispensaries for years, this week the agency unveiled a new tactic against them: It sent letters to dozens of Los Angeles area landlords who rent to dispensaries, threatening them with civil forfeiture and possible criminal action if they continue to rent to what the DEA considers criminal drug trafficking organizations.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/asademo.jpg
Americans for Safe Access demonstration
Similarly, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) regularly sends out its shock troops to attempt to defeat medical marijuana legislation and initiatives at the state level. The DEA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) all attempt to block independent research on the therapeutic uses of cannabis and throw whatever obstacles they can imagine in the path of medical marijuana.

But the federal government is under attack by medical marijuana advocates coming from several different angles. In Congress, the most significant piece of medical marijuana-related legislation is the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, which would bar the use of federal funds to persecute patients and providers in states where it is legal. Hearings and a vote in the House on Hinchey-Rohrabacher are expected in the next week or two. While approval appears unlikely this year, supporters, including the group spearheading the effort, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), expect to pick up votes and edge ever closer to the needed majority.

In the meantime, there are three legal challenges to the federal hard line on medical marijuana:

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Dr. Ethan Russo addresses Patients Out of Time medical marijuana conference
Clearly, the medical marijuana movement is trying to advance on many fronts, and while the disparate groups that make up the movement may be on the same page, they aren't always reading the same paragraphs. With a movement that includes groups like MPP, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which seek an end to marijuana prohibition outright, and groups like the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which seeks broader drug policy reform, as well as organizations like ASA and Patients Out of Time (POT), which focus exclusively on medical marijuana, it is little surprise that while there is broad strategic agreement, there are tactical differences.

Groups differ on the utility of acting at the state versus the federal level, over whether initiatives or legislative action is preferable, and over who should be the public face of the movement, among other issues. For some, even winning more victories at the state level is not as important as changing the parameters of the debate.

For MPP, which is hard at work in the states as well as on Capitol Hill, meaningful change will result from continuing to hammer away at the federal level, said Dan Bernath, MPP assistant director of communications. "There will probably be a vote on Hinchey-Rohrabacher within a week or two, and we think we will pick up at least 20 votes," he said.

But with the amendment having garnered 163 votes last year, an additional couple of dozen votes would still leave it well short of the 218 votes needed to ensure passage in the House. "It is not likely to happen this year," Bernath conceded, "but it is important that we continue to build momentum for the future. The safer it looks for politicians, the easier it is for them to vote for it."

While passage of Hinchey-Rohrabacher would not change the federal marijuana laws, it would effectively protect patients, Bernath said. "If the Department of Justice loses funding to go after medical marijuana in the states, that would be 100% protection for patients."

ASA, while supporting Hinchey-Rohrabacher, was quick to point out that the protection provided by Hinchey-Rohrabacher would only apply to patients in states where medical marijuana is legal. "Hinchey has been something for certain drug reform organizations and proponents to rally around to help turn the tide on medical marijuana," said ASA spokesman Kris Hermes, "but it is certainly not the be all and end all. It would unfortunately only protect patients and providers in those 12 states, but does little to address the concerns of doctors, patients, and caregivers in the rest of the country."

More promising for ASA, Hermes said, are the federal lawsuits. "The ruling by the DEA judge in the Craker case certainly adds to the growing chorus in support of doing further research on the subject," he argued. "And if we can win our case against HHS and the FDA, that would only build pressure on the government's position that marijuana has no medicinal value."

Some patient-oriented groups would rather concentrate on medium-term movement-building than short-term political victories. "While we accept the strategy of most people working within the movement, which is to change the law and get the patients their medicine, we don't always agree with the tactics," said Al Byrne, spokesman for Patients Out of Time, which has concentrated on educating the public and especially the medical profession about medical marijuana. "We need to let educators lead the movement into the future, not lobbyists, lawyers, and legislators," he argued. "Picking up the states one by one is worthwhile, but after a while it's sort of redundant. We don't think we will see real meaningful change until the medical community accepts marijuana as medicine."

Patients Out of Time has for the past several years worked to bring the medical community on board through its series of conferences on cannabis therapeutics, which bring together scientists, researchers, and medical professionals from around the country and the world to discuss the latest advances. POT's Fifth National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics is set for next April in California.

Winning more medical marijuana victories at the state level is not redundant for MPP. To get change at the federal level will require more states getting aboard the medical marijuana bandwagon, said Bernath. "The way change will happen is that when enough states adopt their own medical marijuana laws, the federal government will no longer be able to ignore this."

To that end, MPP will continue to push for passage of state medical marijuana laws, sometimes through the initiative and referendum process and sometimes through the legislative process. In Illinois, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and New York, medical marijuana legislation got some traction this year. "We can pick up next year where we left off," said Bernath.

DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann, whose organization is working on medical marijuana bills legislation in Connecticut and New Jersey, was quick to add those states to the list. DPA sees more bang for the buck in legislative efforts than initiatives, he said. "Legislative campaigns cost money, but not as much as ballot initiatives, and they have the advantage of generating enormous amounts of free media," he said. "Since a major part of the medical marijuana effort is about public education, the more hearings you have and the more media they generate, the better."

Bernath also pointed to MPP involvement in a Michigan medical marijuana initiative campaign that is just getting underway and suggested there may be more initiatives in other states. "The polls are looking pretty good in Arizona, Idaho, and Ohio," he said.

"This is where MPP and DPA have a slightly different philosophy," said Nadelmann. "I hope the Michigan initiative wins, and it would be helpful if it did, but as a matter of resource allocation, I'm skeptical about the value added of spending all that money to win one more state. But that's a judgment call," he added.

NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre drew a distinction between states that accepted medical marijuana through the initiative process and those that accepted it through the legislative process. "The initiatives covered a greater number of stakeholders and are more functional than the ensuing laws, which are very narrow in scope, serve fewer stakeholders, and haven't changed the federal dynamic of those states' representation in Washington," he argued. "If you look at who is supporting Hinchey-Rohrabacher, it is the delegations from the Western and Rocky Mountain states where support is strongest -- the states where medical marijuana came about through the initiative process."

On the other hand, St. Pierre acknowledged, states that have legalized medical marijuana through the legislative process have fewer problems with recalcitrant law enforcement. "In large parts of initiative states like California, Washington, and Oregon, the police simply ignore the law," he pointed out. "But when a medical marijuana bill goes through the legislature, law enforcement is part of the process. The police got to have their say. They lost, but at least they were sitting at the table."

Eleven years ago, no patients were protected by state medical marijuana laws. Now, some 50 million Americans live in states where they could be, and that's progress. But it also means that some 250 million Americans continue without the protection of state medical marijuana laws, and despite tentative advances in the South and the Midwest, today those areas remain without any such laws. In the last few years, progress has been made, but at a painfully slow pace. Perhaps that will change next year, with a number of states well into legislative consideration of medical marijuana bills.

And perhaps things will change at the federal level the year after that, especially if the Democrats extend and deepen their control of Congress. But at this juncture, the only likely federal changes will come if one of the lawsuits turns out victorious, and that means going back to the states and whittling away at medical marijuana prohibition one statehouse or one popular vote at a time.

Pot Group Sues to Make Feds Eat Words

Location: 
CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Recorder (CA)
URL: 
http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1184144802024

Ed Rosenthal scheduled to be sentenced this afternoon

Location: 
San Francisco, CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
KGET TV 17 (CA)
URL: 
http://www.kget.com/news/state/story.aspx?content_id=702e21b1-f4c7-434e-a189-9ce1b58b4682

DrugSense FOCUS Alert #348 - Monday, 2 July 2007

STUDENTS CAN'T SPEAK FREELY? ************PLEASE COPY AND DISTRIBUTE************ DrugSense FOCUS Alert #348 - Monday, 2 July 2007 On Monday, June 25, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down their ruling on the case known informally known as "Bong Hits 4 Jesus." High school student Joseph Frederick was subjected to school suspension in 2002 for his display of a homemade banner while standing across the street from school property, albeit during normal school hours. While initial court rulings held in favor of the Juneau, Alaska school district, the Ninth Circuit Court reversed in favor of Frederick. In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that since the school officials might interpret Frederick's message as some form of "promoting illegal drug use", disciplining the student with school sanctioned penalties is appropriate. MAP has already archived over a hundred news clippings on this ruling from across North America. These, and additional clippings during the days ahead, may be found at: http://www.mapinc.org/topics/Bong+Hits+4+Jesus (Bong Hits 4 Jesus) Please consider writing and sending a Letter to the Editor directed to the newspaper closest to your hometown. We invite additional consideration of sending appropriate letters to other newspapers which have covered this story. If you elect to write to more than one newspaper, we strongly suggest at least some modification of your message so that each newspaper receives a unique letter. Additionally, MAP has archived a large number of Opinion pieces - most being critical of the ruling - from newspaper editorial boards and columnists, including nationally known writers George Will and Debra Saunders. Most of these opinion items saw print within the past one to three days. They make excellent targets for readers to voice their own feelings about the ruling from the Supreme Court. Letters of 200 words or less have the best chance of print unless otherwise noted in MAP headers. Thanks for your effort and support. It's not what others do it's what YOU do ********************************************************************** Additional suggestions for writing LTEs are at our Media Activism Center: http://www.mapinc.org/resource/ Or contact MAP's Media Activism Facilitator for personal tips on how to write LTEs that get printed. heath@mapinc.org ********************************************************************** PLEASE SEND US A COPY OF YOUR LETTER Please post a copy of your letter or report your action to the sent letter list ( sentlte@mapinc.org ) if you are subscribed, or by E-mailing a copy directly to heath@mapinc.org if you are not subscribed. Your letter will then be forwarded to the list so others can learn from your efforts. Subscribing to the Sent LTE list ( sentlte@mapinc.org ) will help you to review other sent LTEs and perhaps come up with new ideas or approaches as well as keeping others aware of your important writing efforts. To subscribe to the Sent LTE mailing list see http://www.mapinc.org/lists/index.htm#form ********************************************************************** Prepared by: The MAP Media Activism Team www.mapinc.org/resource === . DrugSense provides many services at no charge, but they are not free to produce. Your contributions make DrugSense and its Media Awareness Project (MAP) happen. Please donate today. Our secure Web server at http://www.drugsense.org/donate.htm accepts credit cards. Or, mail your check or money order to: . DrugSense 14252 Culver Drive #328 Irvine, CA 92604-0326. (800) 266 5759 DrugSense is a 501c(3) non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about the expensive, ineffective, and destructive "War on Drugs." Donations are tax deductible to the extent provided by law.
Location: 
United States

Editorial: Gone Bong-kers, The Supreme Court on drugs

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Publication/Source: 
Akron Beacon Journal (OH)
URL: 
http://www.ohio.com/mld/ohio/news/editorial/17434505.htm

Feature: Supreme Court Uses "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" Case to Limit Students' Speech Rights

The US Supreme Court moved Monday to tighten limits on free speech for high school students, ruling that an Alaska high school could constitutionally punish a student who held up a 14-foot-long banner reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" during a school-related event. In a 5-4 decision, the high court held that schools may prohibit students from expressing views that could be interpreted as advocating drug use.

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March demonstration outside Supreme Court during Morris v. Frederick hearing
While the courts have held that students in school do not have the same First Amendment rights as other citizens, in a 1969 decision regarding the expression of anti-Vietnam War viewpoints by students, the court famously held that they did not shed the constitutional rights at the schoolhouse door. Since then, the court has trimmed back students' free speech rights in a couple of cases, and on Monday, it did so again.

The ruling came in Morse v. Frederick, a case that began in 2002 when Joseph Frederick led a group of students holding the banner aloft as an Olympic parade passed by. Students had been excused from school to attend the event. Principal Deborah Morse interpreted the nonsensical banner as a "pro-drug message," tore down the banner, and punished Frederick with a 10-day-suspension from school. Frederick filed suit in federal court charging that Morse and the school district had violated his First Amendment free speech rights, and after a series of rulings taking the case back and forth, it eventually ended up at the Supreme Court.

"The message on Frederick's banner is cryptic," Chief Justice John Roberts said in the majority opinion. "But Principal Morse thought the banner would be interpreted by those viewing it as promoting illegal drug use, and that interpretation is plainly a reasonable one."

A number of drug reform and civil liberties organizations, including the Drug Policy Alliance and Students for Sensible Drug Policy, as well as a broad spectrum of groups including the conservative American Center for Law and Justice, Christian Legal Society and Rutherford Institute to the Student Press Law Center, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the National Coalition Against Censorship filed or joined briefs supporting Frederick. The ACLU argued Frederick's case before the court.

While the narrowly drawn decision limits student speech regarding illegal activities, it does not give school administrators the right to suppress speech advocating political positions, such as the legalization of drugs. As Chief Justice John Roberts noted in the majority opinion, "This is plainly not a case about political debate over the criminalization of drug use or possession."

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In a concurring opinion, Justices Alito and Kennedy joined with the majority, with the understanding that the ruling "provides no support for any restriction of speech that can plausibly be interpreted as commenting on any political or social issue, including speech on issues such as 'the wisdom of the war on drugs or of legalizing marijuana for medicinal use.'"

"The decision indeed cuts back on speech rights for high school students," said UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, author of the Volokh Conspiracy law blog. "It claims on the one hand that 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' is an endorsement of illegal drug use, but at the same time, it denies that those words carry any kind of political or social message, and of course they do. Either it was nonsense, in which case it wasn't advocating anything, or, if it was advocacy for illegal drug use, it carried a social and political message."

The ruling could lead to move attempts to restrict student speech, Volokh said. "As a result of this confusion, lower courts may find more student speech to be unprotected because of unsound judgments that it is not really political advocacy."

There is also the sticky question of what happens when students combine advocacy of illegal drug use and advocacy of a political position, Volokh said. "What if someone says 'Repeal the marijuana laws because it's fun and safe'? That's a tougher question."

Reaction to the verdict from Frederick supporters was a mixture of disappointment, concern, and relief. "We take mild comfort that the decision clearly protects speech challenging the war on drugs. Never before has the Supreme Court stated so clearly that speech attacking the wisdom of the war on drugs is protected wherever it may occur," said Daniel Abrahamson, director of legal affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.

"But who is going to decide what is appropriate speech?" Abrahamson continued. "Students are on the front lines of the war on drugs, and we are deeply concerned that free speech will now be administered by those who may wish to suppress open discussion on a range of topics such as the effectiveness of the DARE program, school drug testing policies, or random locker searches. Our constitutionally protected rights to free speech shouldn't have an arbitrary drug war exception."

"Thankfully the Supreme Court agreed with the arguments SSDP set forth in our brief, limiting punishable speech to that which expressly promotes drug use," said SSDP executive director Kris Krane. "But we are concerned that the Supreme Court's decision could cause confusion among school administrators, who may overreach and punish students for speech about drug policy despite the court's ruling today."

"We are disappointed by the Supreme Court's ruling, which allows the censorship of student speech without any evidence that school activities were disrupted," said Douglas K. Mertz, an ACLU cooperating attorney who argued the case before the Supreme Court.

"The Court's ruling imposes new restrictions on student speech rights and creates a drug exception to the First Amendment," said Steven R. Shapiro, ACLU National Legal Director. "The decision purports to be narrow, and the Court rejected the most sweeping arguments for school censorship. But because the decision is based on the Court's view about the value of speech concerning drugs, it is difficult to know what its impact will be in other cases involving unpopular speech.

"The Court cannot have it both ways," Shapiro added. "Either this speech had nothing to do with drugs, which is what Joe Frederick claimed all along, or it was suppressed because school officials disagreed with the viewpoint it expressed on an issue that is very much the subject of debate in Alaska and around the country."

If the ruling is a disappointment and a concern for free speech advocates, it is also notable for one of the most striking critiques of marijuana prohibition ever heard from the high court. In his dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens, joined by Justices David Souder and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, compared the current prohibition of marijuana to alcohol Prohibition. "But just as prohibition in the 1920's and early 1930's was secretly questioned by thousands of otherwise law-abiding patrons of bootleggers and speakeasies," wrote Stevens, "today the actions of literally millions of otherwise law-abiding users of marijuana, and of the majority of voters in each of the several States that tolerate medicinal uses of the product, lead me to wonder whether the fear of disapproval by those in the majority is silencing opponents of the war on drugs. Surely our national experience with alcohol should make us wary of dampening speech suggesting -- however inarticulately -- that it would be better to tax and regulate marijuana than to persevere in a futile effort to ban its use entirely."

"Even in high school," Stevens continued, "a rule that permits only one point of view to be expressed is less likely to produce correct answers than the open discussion of countervailing views… In the national debate about a serious issue, it is the expression of the minority's viewpoint that most demands the protection of the First Amendment. Whatever the better policy may be, a full and frank discussion of the costs and benefits of the attempt to prohibit the use of marijuana is far wiser than suppression of speech because it is unpopular."

That's the minority viewpoint, of course. But when talk like that starts coming from a Supreme Court justice, it makes one wonder just how hollow the drug prohibition edifice is. Steven's dissent suggests there is serious rot in the drug war consensus.

DPA Press Release: "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" Decision Weakens Free Speech; Schools Can Censor "Pro-Drug Use Speech" But Criticism of Drug War is Protected

For Immediate Release: June 25, 2007 For more info: Tony Newman, T: (646) 335-5384 “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” Decision Weakens Free Speech; Schools Can Censor “Pro-Drug Use Speech” But Criticism of Drug War is Protected Advocates Concerned about “Drug War Exception” to the First Amendment and Who Will Determine What is Inappropriate Speech The Supreme Court issued a mixed opinion in the case of Morse v. Frederick, allowing censorship of student speech that promotes illegal drug use while affirming the core principle that political speech questioning the wisdom of the war on drugs is constitutionally protected. The case focused on Joseph Frederick, who was suspended in 2002 from a high school in Alaska after displaying a “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” banner during a class trip to see the Olympic torch parade pass by. Justice Alito in his concurring opinion, joined by Justice Kennedy, makes clear that he only joins the majority in so far as it protects speech “that can plausibly be interpreted as commenting on any political or social issue, including speech on issues such as ‘the wisdom of the war on drugs or of legalizing marijuana for medicinal use.” “We take mild comfort that the decision clearly protects speech challenging the war on drugs. Never before has the Supreme Court stated so clearly that speech attacking the wisdom of the war on drugs is protected wherever it may occur,” said Daniel Abrahamson, director of legal affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “But who is going to decide what is appropriate speech? Students are on the front lines of the war on drugs, and we are deeply concerned that free speech will now be administered by those who may wish to suppress open discussion on a range of topics such as the effectiveness of the D.A.R.E. program, school drug testing policies, or random locker searches,” said Abrahamson. “Our Constitutionally protected rights to free speech shouldn’t have an arbitrary drug war exception.” As Justice Stevens recognized in his dissent: “Even in high school, a rule that permits only one point of view to be expressed is less likely to produce correct answers than the open discussion of countervailing views.” The First Amendment should not be curtailed by a “nonsense banner” containing “an oblique reference to drugs,” lamented Stevens, who was joined by Ginsburg and Souter.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Justices Stevens, Souter, & Ginsburg: Drug Policy Reform Sympathizers?

As noted by Pete Guither in his excellent 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' coverage, this passage from Justice Stevens in his dissenting opinion is quite remarkable:
…the current dominant opinion supporting the war on drugs in general, and our antimarijuana laws in particular, is reminiscent of the opinion that supported the nationwide ban on alcohol consumption when I was a student. While alcoholic beverages are now regarded as ordinary articles of commerce, their use was then condemned with the same moral fervor that now supports the war on drugs. The ensuing change in public opinion occurred much more slowly than the relatively rapid shift in Americans’ views on the Vietnam War, and progressed on a state-by-state basis over a period of many years. But just as prohibition in the 1920’s and early 1930’s was secretly questioned by thousands of otherwise law-abiding patrons of bootleggers and speakeasies, today the actions of literally millions of otherwise law-abiding users of marijuana,9 and of the majority of voters in each of the several States that tolerate medicinal uses of the product,10 lead me to wonder whether the fear of disapproval by those in the majority is silencing opponents of the war on drugs. Surely our national experience with alcohol should make us wary of dampening speech suggesting—however inarticulately—that it would be better to tax and regulate marijuana than to persevere in a futile effort to ban its use entirely.
What a profound statement on the importance of publicly debating marijuana laws. Rarely, if ever, has a member of the Court addressed this issue with such candor. It's also noteworthy that his colleagues, Souter and Ginsburg, signed onto this. Stevens's point can't reasonably be characterized as a direct critique of marijuana laws, but he certainly endeavors to legitimize that viewpoint in the marketplace of political ideas.

Although the 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' banner itself lost today, this case has provided a strong indication of the Court's familiarity with the political debate over our nation's drug laws. What appears on the surface to be a victory in the anti-drug crusade has proven to be more nuanced, which may explain why ONDCP has remained silent today.

Location: 
United States

Bong Hits 4 Jesus: Today's Ruling Does Not Affect Political Speech

Today's Supreme Court ruling in the notorious 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' case (aka Morse v. Frederick) was a disappointment. Still, without naming names, I think some of my colleagues in the blogosphere have missed an important point in their haste to condemn the Court.

It is vitally important that students and school administrators get the right message about what this ruling does and does not say about drug related speech in school. Morse v. Frederick states that the 1st Amendment does not protect speech advocating illegal drug use. Nonetheless, a majority of Supreme Court Justices clearly agree that political speech criticizing the war on drugs should be protected.

As Pete Guither highlights, Alito's concurrence addresses the burning question of what this ruling means for students who wish to speak out about drug policy itself:

I join the opinion of the Court on the understanding that (a) it goes no further than hold that a public school may restrict speech that a reasonable observer would interpret as advocating illegal drug use and (b) it provides no support for any restriction of speech that can plausibly be interpreted as commenting on any political or social issue, including speech on issues such as 'the wisdom of the war on drugs or of legalizing marijuana for medicinal use.'

The Court's majority conclusion that Frederick's 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' banner constituted unprotected pro-drug speech during school was dependent on Alito and Kennedy's concurrence. In short, a majority of the Court's justices expressly reject the notion that political speech advocating drug policy reform could be restricted in the same fashion.

It is exactly this question which compelled Students for Sensible Drug Policy and the Drug Policy Alliance to file Amicus briefs with the Court, and it is clear that reformers got the straightforward answer we were looking for.

Along these lines, it's also notable that Chief Justice Roberts's majority opinion responds to Alito by noting that the banner was not political speech. Thus, even the Court's majority acknowledges that today's ruling in no way constitutes a restriction on speech that merely criticizes the drug war.

None of this is to say that Morse v. Frederick is a good ruling. Indeed, the Court has rarely looked sillier than it does today. It is the height of arrogance to decide arbitrarily what 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' even means in the first place, and then base a 1st Amendment ruling that affects everyone on something so subjective and nonsensical. Morse overflows with hyperbole about the dangers of drugs to America's youth, as if a 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' banner could somehow exacerbate such problems. Yeah, it's a remarkably stupid ruling in that regard.

But to ignore the Court's deliberate defense of political speech is to disregard the primary concern that drew the attention of drug policy reformers to this case in the first place. Certainly there are ambiguities, and today's ruling is far from an endorsement of widespread drug policy debate on high school campuses. How students and administrators ultimately interpret the ruling will vary and more litigation will likely be needed. But it is precisely for this reason that defenders of free speech must be measured in our criticism. Nothing could be more harmful than allowing this case to be understood as restricting speech that it does not in fact restrict.

So, while gray areas abound, the logical interpretation of Morse v. Frederick is that political speech advocating drug policy reform (though not drug use itself) is protected under the 1st Amendment.

Go get 'em, students. If you need some better banner ideas, contact Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

Location: 
United States

Supreme Court Betrays Free Speech...

... and thereby betrays the country. Bad (inexcusable) ruling in the Bong Hits 4 Jesus case.
Location: 
United States

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