BROOKE GLADSTONE: Congressman Ernest Istook penned the amendment that inspired the lawsuit. He chairs the appropriations subcommittee on transportation that handles billions of dollars in public transportation funding. His subcommitte is also responsible for funding the office of the National Drug Control Policy, and he stands by his law.
ERNEST ISTOOK: We did not think that we ought to be sending a mixed message, paying taxpayers' money for buses that would be displaying ads advocating a legalization of marijuana at the same time as we were spending a lot of taxpayers' money to try to tell people don't use the stuff.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Okay. Now a, a coalition of drug policy reform groups have created some ads that aren't advocating the legalization of marijuana, per se, but are basically questioning the efficacy of the war on drugs, and the ACLU is challenging your amendment in a recent lawsuit which names the Secretary of Transportation, Norman Mineta, and the Washington, DC MTA which rejected its ads. They charge that your amendment is a kind of censorship -- even a sort of blackmail -- take these ads and lose the funding. [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
ERNEST ISTOOK: You know, isn't it, isn't it silly how quickly people resort to using a term such as censorship when you're talking about how you use taxpayers' property? And, frankly, the difficulty arose because the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority was giving them free space, you know, free taxpayers' money. And I realize now they say, well maybe we're willing to pay for it, but you know that's - that's what they did to set up the lawsuit. What they're really after is they want the free ad space. And remember the parallels of this. Look at what we've done with cigarette advertising. Cigarette advertising has been banned from the public airwaves for, what is it, over thirty years now? I think it was 1971. And, you know, it was done for public health reasons, and certainly marijuana has significant impact on public health.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:They aren't advocating the legalization of marijuana. They're questioning the efficacy of the war on drugs. Does this somehow send a mixed message or simply that the government needs to re-evaluate how it's conducting that war? [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
ERNEST ISTOOK: Well-- Really, this group's goal is the legalization of marijuana. Now, a particular ad-- oh, they may craft it a little bit differently, but it's part of the overall ad campaign -- the ones that appeared on the buses earlier had a pict--picture of a young couple, if I recall correctly, I think they're in swimming suits, to boot, and it said "Want better sex? Legalize and tax marijuana." Now that is the message of this group. Whether they want to do some subset of that message in one ad and different parts in the other, their goal is to legalize the use of marijuana.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:All right. But would you remove your objections if they limited their advertising to criticizing the war on drugs and were willing to pay for it?
ERNEST ISTOOK: Well, actually-- you know, they can use different means of advertising if they want to. They don't have to use a public property. They do not have to use a bus that in Washington, DC is used not only for general public's transportation but is also used as a school bus. If these people want to do an ad campaign at their own expense, for goodness sakes, they should be out there raising money and buying ads on other media, and there's plenty of media that are available to them.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Right. And, and they s-- [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
ERNEST ISTOOK: But they should not be asking to use public subsidized property which is what this issue is all about.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:We had an earlier conversation with Graham Boyd of the ACLU, and he portrayed your amendment as, and I'll quote, "powerful evidence that the war on drugs is in trouble," and that you and others are-- [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
ERNEST ISTOOK: Isn't that silly?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: -- and that you and others are, in effect, trying to hide their viewpoint from the public view.
ERNEST ISTOOK: That's silly. If, if they want to put their message out, go out and buy a billboard.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Congressman Ernest Istook is a Republican from Oklahoma. [MUSIC]