It seems that we still have to fight the U.S. Government for our Constitutional rights. Whether you like pornography or not, two recent federal court decisions have thrown the First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of the press right out of the Constitution. In Memphis, Tennessee, porno star Harry Reems has been convicted of “conspiring to distribute pornography in interstate commerce,” because of his performance in Deep Throat. The government chose the Tennessee court to prosecute Reems because it knew that he wouldn’t be able to get a fair trial. The question here is not whether or not Deep Throat has “re-deeming social value,” but rather whether an actor should go to prison for performing in a film that didn’t meet some obscure locality’s arbitrary and close-minded standards of acceptability. This is the greatest threat to art and free expression that our country has faced in years. There’s no reason why Jack Nicholson can’t be prosecuted for his performance in Carnal Knowledge, or even Jane Fonda for performing in Barbarella.
While Uncle Sam was busting Reems in Tennessee, the publishers of New York’s Screw Magazine were hauled into a federal court in Kansas and convicted of thirteen counts of obscenity, including a count of “conspiring to send obscene matter through the mails.” Screw had all of three subscribers ruining the moral fiber of Kansas before the Justice Department persuaded two postal clerks in Wichita to add their names to Screw’s subscription list so that they could receive a copy and set up the indictment. Screw’s publishers, Al Goldstein and Jim Buckley, both face a maximum of sixty years in prison for daring to publish a magazine in New York that offended the morals of the good citizens of Kansas.
If our country is to live up to the principles of individual freedom that it was founded upon, then our government has to stop putting people in jail for what we say, think, publish, or smoke, as long as no one else’s rights are infringed on by our actions. As heads, we are particularly sensitive to government attacks on individual freedom because we are the largest single group to suffer from the effects of a governmental policy of repression. Last year, almost a half million Americans were arrested on marijuana charges—more than ever before. We think it’s time that our legislators put an end to a law that has ruined thousands of lives, induced rampant police abuses of power, encouraged arbitrary and uneven enforcement of the law, wasted hundreds of millions of dollars, has distorted police priorities, and polarized our society into suspicious and hostile groups.
There’s a good chance that we’ll be seeing a healthy change in government policy towards marijuana after next November. Of all the candidates for President, only the front-runner, Jimmy Carter, favors decriminalizing the personal possession of marijuana along the lines of the new laws in Oregon and eight other states. We hope that if Carter becomes President he will go still further and recognize the absurdity of making possession of a small quantity of grass subject to a small fine, while its transportation, sale, and cultivation remain felonies. As long as these laws remain on the books, respect for law is eroded and the potential for governmental abuse of liberties is still present.
Charlotte Faye Greenberg
Editor and Publisher