US Congress hears ‘legalizer’ testimony

A US Congressional Committee has heard eloquent and passionate testimony about the harm caused by the drug war and the need to end drug prohibition.
In late June, the lengthily-named Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources subcommittee of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee held hearings on the topic of “The Pros and Cons of Drug Legalization, De-criminalization and Harm Reduction.”

This unique hearing was the first time in over a decade that any sort of pro-legalization voices have been heard on Capitol Hill. The rare event was supposedly to find out if the backers of medicinal marijuana and needle exchange really have the hidden goal of legalizing all drugs. (Sort of like McCarthyist hearings to determine if Communists really want to destroy the American way of life.)

Congress heard rational commentary on the futility of prohibition from Ira Glasser of the American Civil Liberties Union, Scott Ehlers of the Drug Policy Foundation and David Boaz of the Cato Institute. All spoke about the damage caused by the war on drugs and quoted shocking police-state statistics, like how one of every three African American men between the ages of 20-29 are now in jail, on bail or on parole, how 80% of the increase in the federal prison population from 1985 to 1995 was due to drug convictions, and so on.

Ehlers explained how “politicians must first realize that police and prisons are not the solution for all our social problems.” Glasser explained how the prohibition of drugs “has not solved the problems it was meant to solve and it has created other serious problems.” Boaz suggested that “Congress should withdraw from the war on drugs and let the states set their own policies with regard to currently illegal drugs.”

One hopes the attending Congressmen were taking notes. Yet before the subcommittee members could hear these words of wisdom, they had to sit through the testimony of US Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey, whose lengthy speech exceeded the combined duration of all others. McCaffrey used his time to deride anyone who dissented from any part of his master plan to rid the world of all illegal drugs.

McCaffrey attacked supporters of industrial hemp as “not being honest about their goals,” and slagged “harm reduction” as “a linguistic ploy to confuse the public.” He claimed that Holland was experiencing problems with “cannabis addicts” and praised alcohol prohibition as cutting consumption. He claimed that no Americans supported drug law reform, aside from a “carefully-camouflaged, well-funded, tightly-knit core of people whose goal is to legalize drug use.”

Overgrowing the government

Predictably, the General chastised the internet as being just too darn free. Imagine our surprise when he cited the Cannabis Culture website as the ultimate in pro-pot subversion!

McCaffrey complained how, on the internet, “a child can ‘link’ to a site that states: ‘Overthrow the Government! Grow your own stone! It’s easy! It’s fun! Everybody’s doing it! Growing marijuana: a fun hobby the whole family can enjoy!'”

That’s us! Your esteemed editor wrote those words and was delighted to see his prose had been noticed by the highest levels of the American government. Of course McCaffrey misquoted me, as the original page reads “Overgrow the government!” A subtle but important difference.

Hearing this kind of talk shook up a few of the Congressmen, who wondered why the taboo subject was even being discussed. Republican Mark Souder fumed “We do not have hearings called ‘The Pros and Cons of Rape.'”

Yet others on the committee were openly sympathetic. Democrats Elijah Cummings and Edolphus Towns both said they opposed the criminalization of drug users.?”I am for making sure that people are treated,” said Cummings. “We must have a more humane society.”

That such a discussion is occurring in the hallowed halls of the American government is further evidence that the war on drugs has reached the beginning of the end. McCaffrey’s anti-reform tirade seemed shrill and reactive compared to the calm logic of the pro-reform trio.

The usual way for the government to deal with drug-reform critics is to simply ignore them. However, the calls for serious reform are now too loud to ignore, and so the strategy has changed to discrediting all reform ideas by claiming that beneath their facade, all reformers are truly radical legalizers. Yet ironically, this strategy may simply end up giving more attention to an idea whose time has come: what you put into your own body is your own damn business.

? For contact information for all the members of the Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources subcommittee, go to: web
? To find out the phone and fax number of any US Representative, call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 244-3121. Their mailing address is: US House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515.
? American Civil Liberties Union: email [email protected]; web
? Drug Policy Foundation: tel (202) 537-5005; [email protected]; web
? Cato Institute: tel (202) 842-0200; [email protected]; web