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Steve C.
Democrat TN 9

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  • Confidential Informants

    by Representative Steve Cohen

    Posted on 2015-12-08

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    COHEN. Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to congratulate the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Jolly) on his statement. I thought that showed some courage. It reflects the values of a lot of people here in this House and in the United States of America. It needed to be said.

    Mr. Speaker, some of us on both sides of the aisle have been working hard to reform our marijuana laws to allow more State flexibility in how marijuana is regulated and treated commercially and medically.

    What binds us together across a broad ideological spectrum is our strong belief that we must be able to distinguish between marijuana and seriously dangerous and lethal drugs: meth, heroin, crack, cocaine, and prescription drugs as well.

    People don't rob corner groceries and liquor stores to get money to supply their habit of marijuana. They do that for meth, crack, cocaine, heroin. It is a different, different drug.

    The movement that is occurring here in this Congress and around our country is ongoing and growing rapidly, thanks to open minds, common sense, and some people having the courage to stand up for things they know are true because they, themselves, their friends, their family, and others have smoked marijuana, and they have seen that it is not a great problem.

    Sunday night, I and millions of Americans watched a disturbing ``60 Minutes'' piece on the issue of confidential informants. Lesley Stahl was the host. It focused on how local law enforcement appears to be increasingly using young people as informants without regard to their rights or their safety.

    It is being done without distinguishing between marijuana and the dangerous drugs that affect our society and our safety: heroin, meth, crack, cocaine, opiates.

    Here is how it works. A young person is cited for violating drug laws, usually possessing a small amount of marijuana and perhaps having sold some to a friend, which happens regularly in high school and college--not that high school kids should be doing it, but it is a fact, and so are college kids. The police tell them that, unless they agree to wear a wire and implicate a number of their friends, often close friends, they could be sentenced to a long prison term, the maximum permitted by law.

    They are cornered, frightened. Any person in that situation would take that deal. Most of them do it under supreme duress, and they do it without the presence of a lawyer or the knowledge that they have a right to a lawyer.

    Most of them seem to do it without even telling their parents because the police tell them: Don't tell anybody. This is just between you and me. You need to do this or you are going to prison for a long time.

    In the case of Rachel Hoffman and Andrew Sadek, it cost them their lives. Rachel had dealt a small amount of marijuana. They got her into dealing with people that dealt heavy drugs and guns and got her to try to make a big purchase. They didn't do a very good job of covering her. Rachel was murdered.

    Mr. Sadek was murdered, also, as a confidential informant, without police protecting him.

    The underpinnings for this counterproductive and dangerous behavior by some of our police are the very drug laws that many of us are trying to reform. This is wrong. I hope my colleagues will work with me to help stop it.

    President Eisenhower warned us about the military industrial complex and its effect on our country and our budgets.

    We need to be warned about the law enforcement-marijuana industrial complex, which is driven by monies that they get from busts and perverts justice and ruins people's lives and takes away their college scholarships, their opportunity to have housing, on occasion, and their opportunities to get jobs and, indeed, their liberty.

    {time} 1015 In the meantime, it is time for the Department of Justice to take a close look at how this behavior not only threatens to ruin young lives but, in some cases, to end those lives.

    As the Department of Justice, in the aftermath of all too many instances of police overreach and overreaction, works with local communities to educate law enforcement on more just and humane practices, the issue of forcing young people to be confidential informants should be added to its list.

    Mr. Speaker, we will be working on legislation. I hope we have people to join us. This is just part of the scourge that has come across this Nation, ruining people's lives because of the misunderstanding of marijuana starting in the 1930s with Harry Anslinger and continuing in the 1970s with Richard [[Page H9029]] Nixon, who used it as a political tool. It needs to stop.


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