House Judiciary passes Meth/Ecstasy Bill

On July 25th 2000 the House Judiciary Committee considered H.R. 2987, the Methamphetamines Anti-Proliferation Act. The Committee approved an amendment offered by Rep. Bill McCollum (R-FL) that replaced the language in H.R. 2987 with language written by his staff. The new H.R. 2987, renamed the Methamphetamine and Club Drug Anti-Proliferation Act of 2000, removed some of the provisions that were in the original bill but added new ones.

Among the provisions removed were the so-called sneak and peek policies that would have allowed federal law enforcement officers to secretly search people's homes and copy their computer files without notifying owners for months, possibly years.

Among the provisions added were provisions copied from Rep. Judy Biggert's (R-IL) Club Drug Anti-Proliferation Act of 2000, H.R. 4553, that essentially increase penalties for trafficking in Ecstasy and other so-called 'club drugs'. The Committee approved McCollum's substitute language by voice vote and then debated the new bill and several proposed amendments to it.

Rep. Conyers (D-MI), Scott (D-VA), and Waters (D-CA) offered an amendment to the bill that would have abolished all federal mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses. That amendment was defeated 8 to 18. The Committee, however, did approve by voice vote an amendment introduced by Conyers that allows federal judges to consider sentencing people charged with simple possession of an illegal drug to alternatives other than incarceration such as drug treatment or house arrest.

The Committee also approved by voice vote an amendment by Conyers and Scott that instructs the Attorney General to issue a report within one year on:
a. The racial impact of mandatory minimum sentences for controlled substances;
b. Their effectiveness in reducing drug-related crime by nonviolent offenders in contrast with other approaches such as drug treatment programs; and,
c. The appropriateness of the use of such sentences on nonviolent offenders.

Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) offered an amendment to H.R. 2987 that would remove the entire bill's anti-free speech provisions. As it stood, the McCollum substitute bill still made it a federal crime, punishable by up to ten years, to teach or distribute information on the manufacture of a controlled substance. Plus, McCollum's bill made it a federal crime, punishable by up to three years, to advertise drug paraphernalia for sale on the Internet. The bill also gave federal law-enforcement agencies the power to order Internet service providers to remove within 48 hours any web sites that federal law enforcement believed to be illegal.

Baldwin charged that the anti-speech provisions were blatantly unconstitutional as well as unnecessary to combat drug trafficking. Barr warned that the provisions established a new federal 'speech crime' and created an entirely new Chapter of the U.S. Code for the sole purpose of suppressing certain speech. He warned that if these provisions became laws, future politicians might expand them to 'criminalize' speech on other subjects, such as other drug-related speech or gun-related speech. Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR) and several other Republicans spoke against the amendment, but the Committee approved it, 15 to 12.

The amended Meth/Ecstasy bill was then passed by a voice vote and sent to the House floor to be scheduled for a vote. The House is expected to vote on the bill in September, and it is expected to pass overwhelmingly. A similar bill, S. 486, passed the Senate unanimously earlier this year. That bill contains the same anti-free speech and anti-Fourth Amendment provisions removed from this bill, but lacks the Ecstasy provisions. When the House approves the House version, the House and Senate will appoint members to reconcile differences in each bill and develop a final one both sides can accept.

Below is a list of US Representatives who voted for the Barr/Baldwin amendment stripping H.R. 2987 of its anti-free speech provisions. If your Representative voted for this amendment, please send a letter of appreciation for putting the First Amendment principles ahead of drug war policies.

Maxine Waters (D-CA), Bob Barr (R-GA), Steve Chabot (R-OH), Joe Scarborough (R-FL), William Delahunt (D-MA), Barney Frank (D-MA), Martin Meehan (D-MA), John Conyers (D-MI), Melvin Watt (D-NC), Jerold Nadler (D-NY), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), "Bobby" Scott (D-VA) & Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)

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