A Harsh Civics Lesson

by Steven Silverman

As a recent college graduate and new to the ways of Washington, I was excited to attend my first congressional hearing on June 16th about the pros and cons of drug legalization. Not only did I think that Congress might finally be willing to reconsider its lock-em-up spree and listen to other perspectives on dealing with drug abuse, I was also eager to observe our law makers in action. I expected to find a group of intelligent, thoughtful, policy makers engaged in an open and rational discussion of these tough issues. Wow, was I in for a surprise.

Presiding Chairman John Mica (R-FL) opened the hearing with the promising words that "an open and honest debate only serves the truth." But it was downhill from there on. Many of the committee members showed up late, delivered sanctimonious tirades that denounced anyone who advocated any sort of drug policy reform, and then exited without listening to the testimony of a single panelist. One of these part-time Representatives, Mark Souder (R-IN), scoffed at the notion of decriminalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, declaring such talk as tantamount to advocating the legalization of rape or murder.

Watching this scene from the gallery, it dawned on me how naive I was. This was not an open dialogue, but was a well-crafted congressional ambush of the drug policy reform movement. That point was driven home when the drug reform panel finally got a chance to speak -- after the committee heard from drug czar Barry McCaffrey, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and the Deputy Administrator of the DEA. The blatant disrespect the committee members showed the drug reform experts, made my stomach turn. Representative Bob Barr (R-GA) chatted on his cell phone while David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, and Ira Glasser, executive director of the ACLU, delivered thoughtful testimony about the consequences of prohibitionist drug policies.

By the end of the hearing I suffered from acute congressional-hearing stress syndrome, brought on by repressing my natural adrenaline rush of anger and frustration over the closed-mindedness of so many of the committee members and the charade of the whole process. It was a harsh lesson in civics and one that deeply discourages me. Democracy cannot be served when the same people whose job it is to create sound public policy are unwilling to listen to any other voices than their own.

NOTE: The author's views are his alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other individual or organization.

From DrugSense Weekly, July 2, 1999 #104

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