Congress wants to ban links to drug websites.

(This article is from the Wired website.)

Hide that hookah. Chuck that chillum. Congress is in session, and weed Web sites are no longer safe.

A proposed bill that bans Internet discussions of the use of unapproved drugs and links to such sites has not just normally mellow potheads but also journalist groups in a huff.

“This is just legislators spinning their wheels,” says Andrew, a San Francisco Web system administrator who says he enjoys a good bong hit three times a week.

“It offends me that legislators have nothing better to do than grandstand since our society has real problems that have real solutions,” says Andrew, who asked that his last name not be used.

About a dozen senators have signed on to support the Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act, but its primary leaders are Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and longtime Internet regulatory enthusiast, and Orrin Hatch, the arch-conservative Utah Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary committee.

If the measure becomes law, it will create a new federal felony — punishable by a fine and three years in prison — that covers Web pages that link to sites with information about where to buy “drug paraphernalia” such as roach clips, bowls, and bongs.

Even editors of news organizations that publish articles about drug culture and link to related sites will be subject to arrest and prosecution.

“It is going to be a tough thing for news organizations, but more importantly it strikes at the news consumer who wishes to test information provided by the media against their own experience,” says Paul McMasters, First Amendment ombudsman at the Freedom Forum, a foundation devoted to freedom of the press. “Why would anyone want to keep people from finding the truth out for themselves or linking to facts?”

“You would be liable,” says Eugene Volokh, a law professor at UCLA. “It’s a very serious problem for people who want to link for legitimate news purposes.”

Groups fighting for drug legalization are also upset about a second portion of the Hatch-Feinstein bill. It creates another felony, punishable by up to 10 years in the federal pen, banning distribution “by any means” of information about “the manufacture or use of a controlled substance” if the recipient might use it to get high.

“It is yet another illustration of politicians trying to escalate a war they can’t win,” says David Boaz, vice president of the libertarian Cato Institute. “The dirty little secret that maybe nobody has told Dianne Feinstein is that it’s not very hard to grow marijuana.”

“If you had links on your Web site to sites like High Times magazine, you could be threatened with a count of indirect advertising,” said R. Keith Stroup, head of NORML.

Banning linking is close to banning sales of all marijuana paraphernalia, says Dana Larsen, editor of the Vancouver-based Cannabis Culture magazine. “Preventing linking to sites selling drug paraphernalia cuts down on sales [of]these items. I think that the federal government is definitely afraid of the power of the Web to spread uncensored information that they can’t control.”

But Larsen believes that even if Hatch and Feinstein get their way, their plan will disappear into smoke.

“Ultimately, this law will be selectively enforced…. It is totally impossible to ban all linking to drug-related sites. The Web is too large,” Larsen says.

The Church of Scientology — normally an ardent opponent of all illicit drugs — is, for once, not eager to embrace a measure designed to limit their use.

“When you attempt to cut a communication line, you get big problems,” says the group’s San Francisco director, Jeff Quiros. “You can’t block communication without getting upset and in a turmoil. Not talking about drugs, limiting the education to drugs, is to go in the opposite direction of understanding. People need understanding in order to gain judgment.”

The Feinstein-Hatch collaboration is not unique. The two combined to push forth the “Dirty Pixels” law of 1996 that made it a felony to possess computer-generated images of naked children.

Feinstein has tried with similar anti-drug online measures in the past. Last year she introduced a bill — that ultimately didn’t go anywhere — designed to limit online drug paraphernalia sales.

The Clinton administration said it has not taken a position on the plan. “We’ll have to study it. We would have to look to see if it has already been passed,” said Bob Weiner, acting public affairs director of the White House drug policy office.

The Hatch-Feinstein bill amends an existing law that already criminalizes the sale of certain types of pipes, water pipes, carbs, cocaine spoons, chillums, bongs, and wired cigarette papers. Their proposal covers “the use of any communication facility to post, publicize, transmit, publish, link to, broadcast, or otherwise advertise” drug paraphernalia-related information in any way.

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