A congressman and top Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) official had a tense, 5-minute exchange about marijuana legalization at a recent Congressional hearing, as the radio show This American Life reported on its latest episode.
That debate at a March 4 Oversight Committee Hearing began when U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Tennessee, asked the DEA’s second-in-command Thomas Harrigan how his views on marijuana had changed during 30 years in law enforcement.
“To be quite honest with you, sir, very little,” Harrigan answered.
“I was afraid of that,” Cohen quickly replied.
When Harrigan tried to say more, the congressman interrupted him and told him he had said enough. “The fact that it’s changed very little shows that you haven’t kept up with society,” Cohen said. “You haven’t kept up with science.”
Already, it should be easy to tell where each of these men stand in the nationwide debate on the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana. But it is more difficult to know where other members of the federal government stand on the issue. That’s why Congress’ House Government Oversight Committee has named its series of hearings “Mixed Signals, the Administration’s Stance on Marijuana,” as This American Life reported.
Nineteen states and Washington, D.C. have legalized medical marijuana and two more, Washington and Colorado, have legalized it for both medical and recreational use, according to this map from Governing magazine. But marijuana is not legal under federal law.
As the argument continued, Harrigan repeated an earlier statement that “marijuana destroys lives and families, undermines our economy, and insults our common values.” He also said that statement applied to “all of law enforcement, just about every single parent out there as well.”
Cohen countered by pointing out that 55% of Americans favour decriminalization or legalization of marijuana. “Your statement that all parents are against this is ludicrous,” he said, before resorting to a bit of sarcasm. “What do you think? People that are in favour of decriminalization or a change in policy don’t procreate?”
Cohen also demanded that Harrigan describe the values that marijuana supposedly “insults.” Harrigan never answered that question in the short excerpt broadcasted on This American Life, possibly because of Cohen’s frequent interruptions. “From a bare minimum, as a parent, as a former educator, as a law enforcement official for all these years, I have seen the devastation that marijuana has caused not only on individuals, on families and communities,” Harrigan said.
Cohen is opposed to the federal government’s system of drug classification, which designates marijuana as more dangerous than cocaine and meth. You can get a better idea of how the argument unfolded by listening to their voices, and the awkward pauses after interruptions, on This American Life.
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