Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) Gets It Right, Marijuana Injustice Must End Now

stevecohenThere are few people in the world I hold much more contempt for than the 113th United States Congress. The 112th was terrible, and it looks like the 113th is going to be consistent with the established terribleness trend of the last three years or so. The House is currently run by Republicans who have been more interested in finding a scandal worthy to throw President Obama out of office, than they’ve been in trying to get our country fully recovered from the economic crisis of the end of the Bush Era that left us staggering heading into Obama’s first term. They’ve symbolically repealed Obamacare thirty-seven times. They’ve sponsored personhood bills instead of jobs bills, and they’ve held scads of congressional hearings on Benghazi — a scandal that they have been so reluctant to let go of, even though it blew up in their face this week after it was revealed Republicans had doctored White House emails to get ABC News to release their propaganda.

Yet even as you find more and more evidence that our system of governance is in a very damaged and virtually non-functional state, there are those times you find yourself in awe of a particular civil servant who, despite the odds and the times we live in, is actually doing the right thing. If you watch or listen to any congressional hearing you’ll quickly catch on that they are essentially ways for Congressmen and women to get talking points on the record they can then use in campaigning and doing media interviews. You see them grandstand for five minutes about a subject they want to grandstand about, and then they ask a question or two. Depending on if they consider the witness to be on their team or not, the question will either be essentially, “Why are you such an asshole that hates freedom and America?” or “How come we haven’t cloned you yet, because you are perfect?”

This last week though, I actually did find myself wishing that one Democratic member of the House could in fact be used as a prototype from which to clone all other elected officials. It was during Attorney General Eric Holder’s marathon grilling in a House committee hearing that I first discovered Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat out of Tennessee that most certainly took his five minutes to further a cause he feels personally very strongly about. The difference between Cohen and just about every other member of congress who got to “question” Holder was that while Cohen did not mince words with Holder, he chose to ignore the scandals du jour that are distracting the country, and instead spent five minutes lacing into Holder over the administration’s insistence on toeing the line in the war on drugs.

Specifically, Cohen took the administration — but really the entire Federal government — to task for not hearing the winds of change, at least when it comes to marijuana legalization. Cohen’s statement was as follows:

 One of the greatest threats to liberty has been the government taking people’s liberty for things that people are in favor of. The Pew Research Group shows that 52 percent of people do not think marijuana should be illegal. And yet there are people in jail, and your Justice Department is continuing to put people in jail, for sale, and use, on occasion, of marijuana. That’s something the American public has finally caught up with. It was a cultural lag. And it’s been an injustice for 40 years in this country to take people’s liberty for something that was similar to alcohol. You have continued what is allowing the Mexican cartels power, and the power to make money, ruin Mexico, hurt our country by having a Prohibition in the late 20th and 21st century. We saw it didn’t work in this country in the 20s. We remedied it. This is the time to remedy this Prohibition, and I would hope you would do so.

One thing you can’t do is overlook the fact that Cohen is a Democrat, but he’s coming from a very red state, so that should tell the world how ready we really are to make the right decision when it comes to how we handle marijuana in this country. No drug is without its side effects. No drug is harmless per se, but as Cohen points out, there is not a single reason for it to be treated differently from alcohol or tobacco, especially considering the long-term health risks are so much higher with both booze and tobacco products. Twenty years ago, it would be inconceivable that a congressman would actually openly advocate for marijuana legalization directly to the Attorney General of the United States, but that should tell you just how far the issue has progressed in Americans’ minds.

The War on Drugs is a failed domestic policy (perhaps it is the most egregiously failed domestic policy), and the war on pot has been the biggest injustice of all. More and more Americans are coming to realize the benefits we get from treating pot the same as heroin and cocaine are truly non-existent. Perhaps if more representatives were like Mr. Cohen, willing to use his time to advance a cause of the people, not of some political crusade against one foe or another, things would actually get done in Washington.

Rep. Cohen clearly “gets it.” He obviously understands his role, and understands what opportunities like going on the official record at a congressional hearing in front of the Attorney General are for — they’re to do exactly what he did. The only unfortunate side of Cohen’s statement was that it was the lone voice on the subject; it’s time to hold full congressional hearings into ending the war on drugs. Maybe if both sides of the aisle realized that they have a gold mine of bipartisan brownie points to score with the public instead of repealing Obamacare for the 38th time, or dragging out another “whistleblower” on Benghazi, we’d actually get somewhere on this issue.

America needs more elected representatives like Steve Cohen. For every Bachmann, there needs to be forty Cohens.

James Schlarmann

James is in his thirties and gets really passionately angry about politics. Sometimes that anger foments into diatribes, and sometimes those diatribes are comical. Other times, they are not. James is the founding contributor and editor-in-chief of The Political Garbage Chute, a left-leaning satire and commentary site, which can be found on Facebook as well.

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  • ShoreBudMike

    Excellent piece, James. Thank you.

    By the way, that was a lovely batch of brownie points you served up at the end, there. I guess it would be silly of me to ask if there were any left.

  • And the democrats haven’t done exactly the same thing with gun control and that failure of a bill obamacare? I do think you’re right on one point and that’s the war on drugs. It’s asinine to keep dumping money into it just legalize it already and regulate it like we do alcohol and tobacco.

    • most republicans lie

      it amazes me that people still think the dems are trying to take away guns . When no one has ever talked about taking away guns at all. expanding a background check does not even come close to wanting to take away guns. 80 percent of the people where for background checks. But the republicans don’t have enough balls to stand up for what the people want . They rather cater to the gun lobbyist and the nra for there votes. That’s why this independent will never vote for people like that

      • Universal background checks only work if they institute a national gun registry. Even Obama knows this.
        In fact, Obama’s own Justice Department recently reported that the effectiveness of a “universal” background check system “depends on … requiring gun registration.” In other words, the only way that the government could fully enforce universal background checks would be to mandate the registration of all firearms in private possession — something that has been prohibited by federal law since 1986.

        The 80% you tout is as fake as the 40% of gun sales don’t have a background check. The 40% figure came from a phone poll of ~200 people in 1993 before they passed the Brady bill that instituted the current back ground checks system.

        The Feinstein bill would have made it illegal to own semi auto rifles. On the order of 200 of them based on aesthetics. And that is taking guns away from people.

        The fact is, is that guns scare people who don’t understand them I am sorry they feel that way but that doesn’t give them or you or anyone else the right to tell a gun owner what they can have in the way of guns and accessories.

      • JD Messina

        “Universal background checks only work if they institute a national gun registry.” Not true at all, sir. Here’s how a background check works: A person goes into a gun store to buy a gun. Before that person is allowed to purchase said gun, his crime and medical records are checked. That is all; no government storming your home in the middle of the night, no national registry. Period.

        Bottom line: If you are a law-abiding citizen of good mental health, there is nothing to be worried about. If you are not a law-abiding citizen, or have a history of metal/psychiatric illness, then you don’t get to own a gun because those kinds of people just shouldn’t have access to guns, plain and simple.

        The fact is, there are a lot of Americans who shouldn’t own guns for the sake of the health and safety of others. That’s just how things are, my friend.

      • Apparently you missed obamas own DOJ report

        In fact, Obama’s own Justice Department recently reported that the effectiveness of a “universal” background check system “depends on … requiring gun registration.” In other words, the only way that the government could fully enforce universal background checks would be to mandate the registration of all firearms in private possession — something that has been prohibited by federal law since 1986.

        The above statement is verbatim from the DOJ report to Obama about universal background checks and that seems to be conveniently ignored by you. Please pay attention I am not arguing that there are no people that should not own guns because quite obviously there are we can see that with people like Adam Lanza and that cho guy and the Holmes guy. And incase you missed it criminals by definition don’t obey the laws because if they did there wouldn’t be murders, rapes, robberies, arsonists etc…

      • Okay, I’ll take you by the hand, and explain this.

        Somebody goes to buy his first gun.

        And they go to check this mythical list of gun owners to see if he’s on it; and he’s not.

        Therefore he’s got no problem and can buy a gun.

        You’re thinking it over, I can just tell.

        You’re upset about this, but you are realizing you didn’t think it through before; what WOULD be the point?

        I think you’re repeating a talking point fed to you by the gun nuts, and you didn’t really think about it.

        See, they’re terrified that the government will come take their illegally modified AK-47’s, and require the same licensing we have with cars, and pollution control laws.

        Which nobody is recommending, although mandatory insurance would be a good thing.

        Accidents happen; that’s why we instituted automobile insurance.

        Weapons insurance would work the same way and for the same reason. And it keeps you from being sued into bankruptcy when somebody steals your gun and commits a crime with it.

        “And incase you missed it criminals by definition don’t obey the laws”

        Well then, we should repeal all those laws against theft, murder, etc.

        Because if ANYBODY is going to ignore the law, there’s no point having it in the first place.

        That means I can go rob a bank, I guess… oh, wait.

        Laws aren’t there to STOP people from disturbing the peace, but to justify punishing them afterward.

        I guess you didn’t think of that.

        “In other words, the only way that the government could fully enforce universal background checks would be to mandate the registration of all firearms in private possession”.

        Wrong. You completely mis-read the quote.

        The “effectiveness” being referred to is the registration of all newly sold guns, not the ones in private hands.

        When a private collector wants to make a sale, they would step down to the local gun shop, pay the fee, and the shop owner would run the background check on the buyer.

        That is good for the shop owner, as he gets a new customer for gun repairs and ammo sales.

        And it prevents lunatics from getting guns from gun shows.

        Guns that stay in private hands and aren’t sold would stay off the books.

        Do you get it now ? Or are you going to stick with the NRA’s scare tactic interpretation?

      • Weapons insurance would work the same way and for the same reason. And it keeps you from being sued into bankruptcy when somebody steals your gun and commits a crime with it.
        If your firearm has been stole you report it immediately period.

        “And incase you missed it criminals by definition don’t obey the laws”

        Well then, we should repeal all those laws against theft, murder, etc.

        Because if ANYBODY is going to ignore the law, there’s no point having it in the first place.

        Here is a nice contradiction by you here is a quote of yours from a post in this same thread.

      • Duh. They’re not checking to see if somebody’s already registered a gun, dummy.

        They’re checking to see if somebody has a history of mental illness or a criminal record.

        That doesn’t require a registry of gun owners, only a registry of felons and the mentally ill.

        The illogic of gun nuts never ceases to amaze me.

      • You don’t understand universal back ground checks do you? They have nothing to do with mental health checks they have to do with requiring an FFL nics check on all gun sales both from gun shops, gun shows, internet purchases(which are already covered by the current background check system instituted by the Brady bill in 1993) and private sales which are not currently covered. You also missed the part where the DOJ report says they would only work if their was gun registration. Please get your reading comprehension checked.

        “The “effectiveness” being referred to is the registration of all newly sold guns, not the ones in private hands.”

        Hey downs syndrome monkey registration of firearms has been prohibited by federal law 1986 it doesn’t matter if it only applies to new sales or not, and those new sales would be to private hands.

  • Nan

    Thank God there is one congressman in this state that makes sense.

  • Paul

    I sure don’t want my kids growing up in a world filled with drug users. We already live in a world full of drunks and smokers. Our stupid fucking culture revolves around it. Look where legalizing it has gotten us. It’s pathetic. Being drug free and being alcohol free means being better than each and every single one of you.

    • Danny B

      Hey Dummy your kids are already in a world filled with drug users. Smoking has decreased with awareness. Please dont have any more offspring.

      • Paul

        That’s obviously not what I meant. It frustrates me when people always decide to take statements at face value… Sigh. I’ll elaborate. While there are already many drug users in the world, I don’t want that number to increase. Anyone who thinks a greater number of people using drugs is a GOOD THING seriously needs to get educated. Furthermore, I don’t want drug use to become ACCEPTED in our culture like alcohol and tobacco use has become. Can you imagine how fucked up the world would be if people were constantly stoned in public? There would be a hell of a lot more car accidents, for starters. Literacy and and intelligence would decrease. People wouldn’t be making rational decisions on a daily basis. Heart attacks/lung cancer would skyrocket. Then we’d have more people that wouldn’t be able to pay their medical bills because they were too stupid and blew their money on pot. And to counter your point about cigarettes, if it has really decreased with awareness, then why are tobacco companies still making an assload of profits? Why do college classrooms or workplaces always reek of smoke from the idiots that just came in from outside? Why am I forced to breathe that shit in while I’m DRIVING because some asshat decides to hold it out the window? This happens on a DAILY basis. Smoking is still common as ever, so don’t give me that bullshit. Yes, people have become more educated about the risks. But there are still lots of people out there who really aren’t that smart, or who just don’t care. I’m not sure which one is worse. As for me, I don’t have kids yet, but when I do, they will grow up in a drug free, alcohol free, tobacco free, religion free household. All toxic things must go. Think twice before you make a statement next time.

      • theg8r

        Your rant displays your complete ignorance of the realities of the drug war. I’d attempt to educate you but that would take away from precious time I could be doing something more productive, like getting high.

      • Whoa, whoa. You’re completely unhinged.

        Do you see people constantly DRUNK in public ?

        No ?

        And you’re basing your rant on the theory that making something illegal prevents it. Ah… you might want to re-examine that. Doesn’t work.

        As for car accidents, there’s plenty of people smoking, but nobody’s being pulled out of wrecks high on pot alone. Occasionally drunk AND stoned, but never just stoned.

        That’s because stoned people become more cautious drivers; alcohol reduces inhibitions and diminishes judgement, but pot doesn’t work the same way.

        Literacy and Intelligence would decrease? Why? Because the same people smoking in private now do so without risk of arrest?

        You’re imagining things to be afraid of.

        Heart attacks and Lung Cancer? Nope.

        You may have missed it, but there was recently a revelation; people get cancer from tobacco, but not from pot. Apparently, pot has cancer-preventive effects.

        Those people smoking weed to get through Chemo?

        It’s not the Chemo that saved them.

        And as of this week: somebody found out that despite pot causing “the munchies”, pot smokers don’t gain weight as a result.

        Which means that pot has to have a thermogenic effect, stimulating the metabolism; which neatly explains the “munchies”, doesn’t it?

        If we can refine that into a pill, assuming it’s not the THC itself, we can get a handle on the obesity epidemic.

        Now, go do some research and stop jumping to conclusions.

  • Free

    I am a married nearly 40 year old mother of two, I have a degree, have a professional career helping homeless families, own several properties and businesses, and volunteer at my children’s school and sports activities. I have never committed a crime (other than an occasional speeding ticket) and marijuana has been a part of my life for over 20 years. I know many people who have to hide behind the cloak of shame for smoking marijuana and they are hard working, tax paying, community and church involved citizens. Most of the people making negative judgements about marijuana have out-dated information and no real experience on the subject matter because if they did they would know that marijuana is no more harmful than many of the prescription drugs on the
    market these days, and it is far less addictive and destructive than
    alcohol and cigarettes. Let’s legalize marijuana for those who use it responsibly, and use our resources to penalize those individuals who actually commit crimes.