Congressman Cohen Questions Expert Witnesses about the Harm Done by the War on Drugs

March 11, 2021
Press Release
Witnesses agree his expungement bill would offer second chances

MEMPHIS – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, today participated in a Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security hearing on “Controlled Substances: Federal Policies and Enforcement.” Congressman Cohen, a longtime member of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, was an original cosponsor and voted for the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which passed the House in December.

In his questioning of witnesses today, Congressman Cohen discussed the disproportionate impact of the War on Drugs on communities of color and the devastating impact of a drug conviction on employment, education and housing opportunities. One witness, Nicole Austin-Hillery, endorsed his legislation allowing federal judges to expunge records of conviction for drug offenses under prescribed circumstances. Congressman Cohen also asked about the likely effect on drug cartels of Mexico legalizing marijuana.

In his questions, he said:

“An arrest or conviction for even a minor drug offense in the United States can have lifelong consequences for an individual – they may not be able to get a job, they may not be able to get a loan, a professional license, maybe they can’t get a college scholarship, or federal housing. Tell me a little more about the collateral consequences and other solutions to address this unfair impact of our criminal justice system.”

See the entire exchange with the witnesses here.

Today’s hearing witnesses were:

  • Nicole M. Austin-Hillery, Esq., Executive Director, U.S. Program, Human Rights Watch;
  • Howard Henderson, Ph.D., Founding Director, Center for Justice Research, Texas Southern University, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Governance Studies, Brookings Institution;
  • Derek Maltz, Former Special Agent in Charge, Special Operations Division, U.S. Department of Justice;
  • Katharine Neill Harris, Ph.D., Alfred C. Glassell III Fellow in Drug Policy, Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy.

Under Congressman Cohen’s Fresh Start Act, qualifying ex-offenders would be eligible to apply to a federal court to have their convictions expunged from their records if they have not committed any other state or federal offenses and have met all the terms of their sentences.

The Congressman’s Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act would amend federal law to allow states to set their own medical marijuana policies and permit doctors with the Department of Veterans Affairs to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans to treat serious and chronic conditions.