I skimmed over this one earlier in the day because I thought, meh, nothing new there, and anyway, while it’s obvious that marijuana is nothing like the societal problem that other drugs, including alcohol, are, and imprisoning people for possessing it is industrial-strength madness, it’s just another part of that “War on Drugs” crap that is now such a huge and profitable industry (for the private sector that is) that I despair of any sanity emerging in my lifetime.
And there isn’t anything new here, not really, but then I read the transcript of our local boy Jared Polis (D-CO) grilling DEA official Michele Leonhart and saw just how brazenly and resolutely some functionaries can be dishonest in the public eye. (Polis, incidentally, is an interesting character; he’s the first openly gay freshman in US congressional history and he’s big rich.)
Even though this kind thing happens all the time, this is such a quintessentially absurd example of an official refusing to acknowledge what everyone with an IQ bigger than their shoe-size knows perfectly well to be true that it’s earned a place here.
I know that government officials elsewhere in the world act like this too, but damn, this has to qualify for some kind of “top ten” list somewhere.
But, and it’s a big one, there is a perfectly understandable reason it happens this way. More on that below. (Non-US readers may need the context of knowing that for legal purposes here, marijuana and heroin (etc) are Class I drugs, and thus no legal distinction exists) I’ll embed video at the bottom if I can find a worldwide embeddable one;
POLIS: Is crack worse for a person than marijuana?
LEONHART: I believe all the illegal drug –
POLIS: Is methamphetamine worse for somebody’s health than marijuana?
LEONHART: I don’t think any illegal drug –
POLIS: Is heroin worse for someones health than marijuana?
LEONHART: Again, all the drugs –
POLIS: I mean, either yes, no, or I don’t know. I mean, if you don’t know, you can look this up you should know this as the chief administrator for the Drug Enforcement Agency. I’m asking you a very straightforward question. Is heroin worse for someone’s health than marijuana?
LEONHART: All the illegal drugs are bad.
POLIS: Does this mean you don’t know?
LEONHART: Heroin causes an addiction that causes many problems that’s very hard to kick.
POLIS: Does that mean that the health impact is worse than marijuana, is that what you’re telling me?
LEONHART: I think that you are asking a subjective question.
“No, this is objective. Just looking at the science,” Polis shot back. “This is your area of expertise. I’m just a layperson but I’ve read some of the studies and I’m aware of it. I’m just asking you as an expert in the subject area: is heroin worse for someone’s health than marijuana?”
“And I’m answering as a police officer, and as a DEA agent, that these drugs are illegal because they are dangerous, because they are addictive, because they do hurt a person’s health,” she replied.
He pressed her once more: “So heroin is more addictive than marijuana?”
She conceded that heroin is addictive, and so is meth, but when Polis tried to get her to answer whether they are more addictive than marijuana, she gave yet another non-answer: “I think some people become addicted to marijuana and some people become addicted to methamphetamine.”
Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s embarrassing, but it’s not that simple is it? She is indeed dissembling like crazy, and it’s painful to see, but there’s more to it.
The woman was required to testify in her capacity as a law enforcement official, not as a private citizen, and in her official capacity she really has no choice if she wants to keep her job. What she could conceivably have said, and for all we know may well have wanted to say, is something like;
“Look Congressman, you’re requiring my testimony here as a cop not a private citizen, and my job as a cop is to enforce the laws that you and your colleagues create. The law currently makes no distinctions of the kind to which you refer, and thus in this setting neither can I. If what you want is for the law to reflect the distinctions articulated in the studies you cite, then dammit, you’re a legislator and that’s your job. Get your ass out of that chair and go make laws like that and then, I promise you, I’ll enforce them accordingly.”
But that would likely end her entire career, a point that all of the other “progressive” news outlets and blogs getting mileage out of this are failing to make in their haste to idolize a marijuana reformer, and that’s part of the problem too. They don’t give a shit if they make this woman look stupid and dishonest (and she may well not be either by character, for all we know she might personally be on the same page as her interrogator) just so long as it fits their self-absorbed little narrative and elevates their own “heroes”.
Of course the drug laws are ridiculous, and of course the “war on drugs” is an abject failure that’s created completely unsolvable and expensive problems, as did prohibition. This is not debatable outside of asylums. But if the marijuana zealots were to think this through they would realize that they really don’t want cops interpreting the law on the fly, what they want is laws that make sense, and so they should be jumping on the legislators hard, not the functionary who has to find a way to deal with the dysfunctional legislation they create. Do they really expect someone to jettison an entire career over something like this? Would they?
So Polis is right about the absurdity of the law, but he’s grandstanding here, and beating up on someone who can’t do anything about it, and can’t fight back without completely upending her life. In Texas they call that “chickenshit”.
The problem in this case, as in so many others, is systemic, not individual. He’s a bully here, and comes off as less attractive to my eye than the woman who is so wretchedly trapped into trying to fit square pegs in round holes.