- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 30, 2003

THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority subcommittee endorsed a plan yesterday to eliminate free public service announcements, except for those sponsored by the federal or local governments.

Metro officials said money woes are forcing them to cut their ad budget and that the plan is not in response to complaints about recent public service ads — one suggesting marijuana is good for sex and the other promising to make a homosexual man straight.

Metro says it needs at least $516 million to repair or replace assets and an additional $946 million for new trains, buses and improvements to help it respond and recover during regional emergencies.

The Washington Times reported the “Legalize and Tax Marijuana” ad drew the ire of D.C. Council member Jim Graham, chairman of Metro’s Board of Directors.

“I was very upset to see Metro [posting] ads about marijuana and sex,” said Mr. Graham, Ward 1 Democrat. “We have a responsibility to the public in advertising to be truthful.”

One poster shows a young couple in a romantic embrace and urges, “Enjoy Better Sex!” Two other ads ask commuters to “Save Our Taxes!” and “Protect Our Children!” by legalizing and taxing marijuana.

The ads also upset Rep. Mark Souder, Indiana Republican.

“I was flabbergasted,” Mr. Souder said in a letter to Richard A. White, Metro’s chief executive officer. “Drug use and pregnancy are two of the strongest things that prevent young people from finishing school and becoming successful. At a time when the District of Columbia is suffering from the dual epidemics of substance abuse and sexually transmitted disease, we were shocked to learn that Metro is posting advertisements encouraging illegal drug abuse and risky sexual activity.”

More than 10 percent of the District’s 572,000 residents are addicted to illicit drugs or alcohol, according to a recent study by Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ office. The District has the highest rate of new AIDS cases per capita in the nation and ranks near the top in infection rates of other sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, according to the city’s health department.

The ads, place by the Massachusetts-based nonprofit Change the Climate, appeared on the exteriors of 50 Metro buses and inside 150 others. They also were posted at 10 subway stations.

The nonprofit group has said it wants to promote discussion about drug laws but does not advocate marijuana use. This is the group’s third ad campaign in the metropolitan area since 2001.

Thirteen percent of Metro’s ad space goes to public service announcements. However that amount could be cut to about 5 percent if the proposal made yesterday by the Metro’s Operations Committee is approved by the agency’s 12-member board.

Metro’s existing policy states at least 10 percent of its advertising space must be reserved for nonprofit groups. Two years ago, agency officials rejected Change the Climate’s ad campaign but reversed the decision after the American Civil Liberties Union took up the group’s cause, citing the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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