Reformers Slandered, Harassed and Threatened at House Subcommittee Hearings on "Legalization" 6/18/99

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On Wednesday (6/16), the Committee on Government Reform's Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources held a hearing titled: "The Pros and Cons of Drug Legalization, Decriminalization and Harm Reduction." True to form, the "hearing" was less an informed inquiry into possible alternatives to this nation's failed drug policy than a dog and pony show in which defenders of current policy accused reformers of seeking to increase youth access to drugs and during which reformers were subjected to harassment, ridicule and both implied and overt threats of official reprisals for their views.

First to testify was the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey. McCaffrey sought to claim the moral high ground early by contrasting "the legalizers" with the vast majority of Americans who are "against drug abuse." He followed this up with a laundry list of the harms associated with such abuse.

But McCaffrey's willingness to mislead with regard to reformers was not enough for several of the subcommittee members. They wanted action.

Representative John Mica (R-FL), the subcommittee chairman, asked McCaffrey whether any part of the $195 million Partnership for a Drug Free America ad campaign would be used to oppose medical marijuana and other reform initiatives. McCaffrey answered that it would not.

Pre-eminent in the minds of the Republicans on the committee was the involvement of major funders, particularly George Soros, in the drug policy reform movement. At one point, Mica asked McCaffrey whether he had ever spoken to Soros personally, noting, incredibly "I would be interested in what his motivations are, and also the question of where his money is coming from."

Mr. Soros, of course, is perhaps the world's best-known currency speculator. His non-profit entity, the Open Society Institute, is dedicated to fostering the free flow of information and the airing of debate. Soros, whose family fled both the Nazis and the Communists, has long been an advocate of the theory that information is the enemy of oppression. To that end, he spent several years before the fall of the Iron Curtain sending communications equipment including copy and fax machines into Eastern Europe.

As if to justify Soros' long and generous fight for the ideals of free and open debate, Bob Barr (R-GA) suggested to McCaffrey that he urge the Justice Department to look into the possibility of "prosecuting Soros under our racketeering (RICO) statutes" for the crime of funding efforts and initiatives "to circumvent our drug laws." Even McCaffrey appeared to be taken aback at Barr's suggestion, and indicated that such action would undoubtedly have "a chilling effect on free speech." Barr, however, replied that such an action "might have a chilling effect on the legalization movement, and I would consider that a good thing."

Mark Souder (R-IN), champion of the drug provision of the Higher Education Act of 1998, took exception to the very concept of a hearing on "the pros and cons of legalization."

"We don't hold hearings on the pros and cons of rape," he said, "or the pros and cons of child abuse, or the pros and cons of racism. The advocates of legalization are responsible for blood in my community, and they are as responsible for this as rapists."

The next session featured a panel of two, Dr. Alan Leshner, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and Donnie Marshall, Deputy Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The highlight of the second panel came when Marshall was asked by Mr. Barr to "put yourself in the place of a state prosecutor." Barr then asked whether Marshall would be upset at the prospect of someone coming into his state advocating the legalization of drugs. "Yes," he replied. Barr then asked, given Marshall's experience as a law enforcement officer, whether he saw any real difference between someone advocating drug legalization and someone advocating pedophilia. Marshall, citing his 30 years of experience in law enforcement, said that he saw no real difference.

The final panel of the day included Robert McGinnis of the Family Research Council, James McDonough, former aide to McCaffrey and the current drug czar of Florida, Ira Glasser, National Director of the ACLU, David Boaz, Executive Vice President of the Cato Institute and Scott Ehlers, senior policy analyst for the Drug Policy Foundation.

The Members were a bit more congenial when speaking directly to the reform advocates, not once comparing any of them with pedophiles, rapists, or child abusers. Barr, in fact, noted that he and the ACLU agreed on numerous issues, including privacy rights and the need to reform asset forfeiture. Much of the give and take revolved around the effects of illicit drugs on health, with Glasser taking pains to point out the difference between substance use and substance abuse, regardless of a drug's legal status.

Glasser also brought up the topic of race, noting that it was impossible to discuss the drug war honestly without pointing out the destruction that it has caused in communities of color.

"African Americans," said Glasser, "who comprise approximately 13% of our population, and approximately 13% of American drug users, account for 34% of all drug arrests, 55% of convictions, and 74% of those incarcerated for drug offenses. These issues have to be addressed."

Soros' name did resurface however, with Barr asking Ehlers about Soros' contributions to the Drug Policy Foundation (approximately $1.75 million this year, all of which went to a grants program administrated by DPF, none of which went to DPF's operations themselves). Ehlers was then asked a series of questions regarding other foundations to which Mr. Soros might have contributed, to which Ehlers responded that he was not a representative of Soros and did not have any information on his other philanthropy, as well as questions regarding DPF's lobbying activities. Glasser, who also serves as the President of DPF's board of directors, assured Barr that he was quite familiar with the legal restrictions on lobbying by non-profit organizations and that the Drug Policy Foundation was operating well within its legal rights.

Barr closed with an assurance that the subject of the Drug Policy Foundation's finances would be further explored at future hearings on the topic of "legalization." Mica promised to convene more hearings in the near future.

The following organizations have their testimony on the web:

Office of National Drug Control Policy

American Civil Liberties Union

CATO Institute

You can read the testimony of Scott Ehlers of the Drug Policy Foundation at

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Issue #95, 6/18/99 Reformers Slandered, Harassed and Threatened at House Subcommittee Hearings on Legalization | Juvenile Justice Bill Expected to Pass with Worst Provisions Intact | Swiss Vote Again to Continue Heroin Experiment | Palliative or Repressive? Conservative-Sponsored Legislation Impacts on Pain, Suicide and Drug Policy Debates | Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Moves to House Floor | Geraldo Rivera Drug War Report This Weekend (6/20) | Newsbriefs | RESOURCES: Kids and Drug Education, Drug Control Strategies, Medical Marijuana Report, Hemp Video | New Research Finds Marijuana Offenders Crowding Nation's Prisons and Jails | Canadian Senator Urges Drug Policy Review, Endorses Legalization of Marijuana, Soft Drugs | Errata on Breyer Appointment | Editorial: US House of Repression
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