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Bill Would Deny Tax-Exempt Status to Organizations That Promote Drug Legalization


May 1995

On April 6, Rep. Gerald Solomon (R-NY), chairman of the House Rules Committee, introduced H.R. 1453, which would deny tax-exempt status to any non-profit organization that promotes the legalization of illegal drugs.

The bill would disallow an organization to obtain tax-exempt status "if any portion of the activities of such organization consists of promoting the legalization of any controlled substance."

Should the bill pass, it would affect organizations such as the Cato Institute, the Drug Policy Foundation, the Reason Foundation (publishers of Reason Magazine), and The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation (publishers of NewsBriefs).

Rep. Solomon vowed to attach his bill to any bill that appears to a good chance of passing (Rick Henderson, "Speech Code," Reason, July 1995, p. 17).

"As Americans we must win and we will win the war on drugs," Rep. Solomon noted in remarks inserted in the Congressional Record. "As a Marine I can assure you that you don't win a fight, battle, or a war by giving up" (Congressional Record, Apr. 7, 1995, p. E842-843; see also Virginia I. Postrel, "A 'Big Tent' Setback for Free Speech," Los Angeles Times, Apr. 30, 1995, p. M5).

[A potential vehicle for Solomon's amendment is legislation pending that would bar organizations that receive any federal funds from lobbying. Reps. David McIntosh (R-IN), Ernest Istook (R-OK), and Bob Ehrlich (R-MD) are the sponsors (Alice A. Love, "Conservatives Spur New Lobbying War," Roll Call, July 10, 1995, p. 1). Some drug reformers, because they had never heard of Rep. Solomon until recently, have naively expressed the view that he is nobody important. Rep. Solomon has successfully advocated issues such as eliminating scholarship eligibility to draft resisters and the recent House passage of a Constitutional amendment to permit prosecution of flag burners. He pushed the requiring of suspension of drivers licenses for drug convictions. The bill, if enacted, is almost certain to be found unconstitutional as a violation of free speech protections of the First Amendment. It is also probably void for vagueness. Examples: Since peyote is in Schedule I, under Solomon's bill the Native American Church would have jeopardized its tax exempt status in seeking passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act Amendments of 1994 (Public Law 103-344). Or since all new prescription narcotic painkillers are "designer drugs" in Schedule I until placed on Schedule II, III, IV, or V, any non-profit groups advocating the scheduling of a newly created narcotic painkiller to permit medical use would run afoul of Rep. Solomon's proposal. -- EES]