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Illinois Senate panel considers limiting online communications about pot

By David Hudson
First Amendment Center

The Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing this afternoon on a bill that would criminalize online communications about marijuana when the person sending the information knows it will be used to further illegal activity.

However, some believe the measure, which unanimously passed the House last month, will blur the lines between free speech and illegal activity.

Introduced Feb. 2 by state Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, the bill provides: "A person commits the offense of illegal transmission of cannabis information by the Internet when he or she transmits information about cannabis by the Internet knowing that the information will be used in furtherance of illegal activity."

Al Adomite, a House staffer, says the measure is not designed to infringe on any free-speech rights but to criminalize the selling and trafficking of illegal materials on the Internet.

"This bill extends to the Internet prohibitions on the trafficking and selling of drugs that currently apply over the telephone and in the mail," he said. "The legislative intent is not to single out the Internet but to merely bring online communications in the same realm as laws that apply to telephone and mail."

However, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws contends the measure violates free-speech rights. R. Keith Stroup, the group's executive director, said in a news release: "Under this measure, someone could legally transmit information about building bombs but face criminal prosecution for posting messages about the documented medical uses of marijuana."

Stroup called the measure "an attempt to circumvent the First Amendment guarantee of free speech by turning the transmission of certain factual information via the Internet into a thought crime."

Stroup, who is an attorney, said: "This is an idiotic bill that attempts to criminalize protected speech on the Internet. Under this bill, someone could transmit information in print about how to grow marijuana, but if they do so on the Internet, it could become a crime. There is something about the Internet that scares some lawmakers.

"We have already had preliminary discussions with some attorneys about trying to challenge this measure if it becomes law," Stroup said. "If the bill becomes law, we will make all reasonable attempts to challenge it."

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