The Tragic Death Of Rachel Hoffman — And The Tragedy That Is Pot Prohibition

You can now watch Friday’s excellent 20/20 segment on Rachel Hoffman here. I also have an expanded essay on this tragic situation here.
Rachel Hoffman is dead.
Rachel Hoffman, like many young adults, occasionally smoked marijuana.
But Rachel Hoffman is not dead as a result of smoking marijuana; she is dead as a result of marijuana prohibition.
Under prohibition, Rachel faced up to five years in prison for possessing a small amount of marijuana.
Under prohibition, the police in Rachel’s community viewed her as nothing more than a common “criminal,” and threatened her with years in jail unless she cooperated with them as an untrained, unsupervised confidential informant.
Under prohibition, the law enforcement officers responsible for placing Rachel in the very situation that resulted in her murder have failed to publicly express any remorse — because, after all, under prohibition Rachel Hoffman was no longer a human being deserving of such sympathies.
On Friday, ABC’s 20/20 shed a national spotlight on the tragedy surrounding Rachel Hoffman’s untimely death — and the tragedy that is marijuana prohibition.

Are pot users criminals? The tragic case of Rachel Hoffman
via ABC News
After being caught twice with a “baggie” of marijuana, 23-year old Rachel Hoffman was reportedly told by police in Tallahassee, Florida that she would go to prison for four years unless she became an undercover informant.
The young woman, a recent graduate of Florida State University, was murdered during a botched sting operation two months ago.
… “The idea of waging a war on drugs is to protect people and here it seems like we’re putting people in harm’s way,” said Lance Block, a lawyer hired by Rachel’s parents.
The Florida Attorney General’s office says it is reviewing the procedures and protocol of the Tallahassee police.Rachel’s case also has raised new questions about state and federal laws related to marijuana possession.
I’m calling her a criminal,” Tallahassee police chief Dennis Jones told 20/20, who maintains that both drug dealers and drug users are considered criminals to his department.
Under Florida law, possession of more than 20 grams of marijuana is a felony.
Rachel was also found in possession of two ecstasy pills, a felony under Florida law no matter the quantity because it “has a high potential for abuse and has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.”
The Tallahassee police chief says Rachel was suspected of selling drugs and she was rightly treated as a criminal.

0 thoughts

  1. This site used to be a respectable resource of information and news. Now it’s turning into the Fox News of reform. Way to go guys.

  2. That’s completely ridiculous.
    Look- fully 22% of the United States have thus far decriminalized Marijuana to some extent.
    But still- an innocent, untrained young woman being thrown in harm’s way? …With no possible recourse- no possibility of protection? No remorse to her family for putting her in harm’s way??
    …Assume for a moment marijuana was decrimininalized.
    …Who here would have gotten hurt??
    Is it really such a bad thing that from time-to-time people might want to light up a joint together?
    As long as you aren’t out driving impaired, who exactly does that harm??
    If marijuana were decriminialized, *NONE* of this would have ever happened.
    …In my mind, Rachel Hoffman is now a martyr, and its the meddlesome sentiment of useless law enforcement that caused her death- not marijuana.
    So- here’s to you Ms. Hoffman.
    This will not have been in vain. Me and my friends hold vigil- and remember you fondly as you linger among the smoke of clouds.

  3. “I’m calling her a criminal,” Tallahassee police chief Dennis Jones told 20/20, who maintains that both drug dealers and drug users are considered criminals to his department.
    The real criminals in this case wore badges.

  4. What a sad story! Of course the war on drugs is already a useless and fruitless venture, but now we are spilling over into taking people’s lives? This is so wrong, it’s disgusting. Where is the accountability from the police force? They should be ashamed of themselves!

  5. For those who missed the 20/20 special last night, here is the link to abcnews for the particular segment.
    Being a responsible user who is so close in age to this poor woman, I urge everyone to please be responsible about these things and be careful who you trust. “To protect and serve”….They still have a budget each month.

  6. Hi,
    This is Liza Patty I was on 20/20 in regard to the death of one of my best friends Rachel Hoffman. I just wanted to thank you for your coverage of this story. I’m glad that you seen the peace and love that was my friend.
    Thank You

  7. I was so pissed off after watching that segment. As a father and a “criminal”, according to that idiotic sherriff I am utterly astonished that this is even being debated. If we are criminals for smoking a little marijuana then there should be no doubt about the police involved in this. The leader of this peanut gallery should be the first one brought to trial for the great injustice and pain that is caused to this innocent family. My thoughts go out to this poor, innocent girl’s family and the hundreds of other similiar circumstances. It is unfortunate but if you follow the link below you will see that this behavior is far too common. When are we as citizens going to say enough?

  8. Yes indeed a friend we have lost but lets hope it wasnt invaine and ploice and congress will look at this.. It would make fed. and state gov. money and save them money on the war. they are loseing on leag.marij. No brainer didnt work with alchol and finaly its here time to made it leagle. stop the wars save money and lives its time

  9. The police are repsonsible for her death and should be prosecuted as such. A LOT of cops are criminals. You can obviously do whatever you please and get away with murder if you are police officer. That’s why all the assholes, jocks, and bullies you knew from High School become cops! They think they’re big men, and I use the word “men” very loosely. I think they’re all compensating for some physical “shortcoming” if you know what I mean.

  10. dear liza, my condolences on the untimely death of your friend. to me the real criminals here are the police. their ‘us vs. them’ mentality and rachel’s ignorance of the laws and her rights all contributed to her death. when cops find your stash, YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT! USE THAT RIGHT! NEVER talk to the cops, NEVER. no matter what they do or say to you. you have a right to have an attorney present when being questioned. USE YOUR RIGHTS! SILENCE IS GOLDEN WHEN DEALING WITH THE POLICE! ask the police two questions: 1) am i under arrest?, and 2) then can i go? ( if the answer is no) or: may i speak with my/an attorney? ( if the answer is yes) then SHUT THE HELL UP! there is no other conversation.

  11. Arresting people for possession of Marijuana is becoming the newest way for police to harass and imprison people, especially here in Texas. I have had the displeasure of being arrested for this simple, effective herb, and I still plan to use marijuana until the day that I die. It’s hard to believe that this type of thing could happen in 2008. It won’t be too long until people are getting arrested for marlboro’s and pepsi. Historically the drug war against cannabis has always been a losing battle, initially inspired by racism against Chicano’s. I hope the chief gets the Florida death penalty, he certainly deserves it.

  12. Joe says “Now [NORML’s website is] turning into the Fox News of reform.”
    You mean we unquestioningly parrot the talking points of the Bush Administration, feed disinformation to the American people, and offer a platform for the most vile hate speech in the media?
    I think you have us confused with
    I wish you’d left an email, Joe, because your comment in response to the Rachel Hoffman story confuses me. I’m saddened to think that the exposure of this story of marijuana prohibition’s latest victim is a story you’d consider sensationalistic FOX-style tabloid journalism.

  13. this is so disgusting. these cops just wanted a big flashy bust and did not care who they had to use to do it. they think by calling this young woman a “criminal” they can avoid answering some serious questions . it’s just another sad example of how important it is to decriminalize . i sincerely hope Rachel’s family sees some justice.

  14. Fisrt of all – The task they wanted her to do totally goes against what they were saying. If she got in trouble for marijuana, and then they wanted her to buy the crack and the gun, that’d be breaking the law twice. Did the gun even have a license? That’d be breaking it three times then.
    Second of all – The police weren’t even watching her. They could face charges, and so could the men that killed her.
    Third of all – She was arrested for something that doesn’t even kill anybody. Fifty ecstacy pills and six ecstacy pills are two different things. And a “baggie” of pot? My goodness…
    This isn’t NORML.

  15. That made me cry.
    What sort of twisted bastards send a 23 year old girl as an informant for a cocaine bust? That is probably what tipped them off that this was a sting. They knew that she wasn’t the sort of person who’d make that deal with them.
    That cop looked like he was about to piss himself behind his ‘she was a criminal’ stance though. He knows it was the fault of his department. I wouldn’t be surprised if they knew this would happen and wanted to use her to make an example.
    It looks like enough people in authority know that it was wrong though. Maybe some of those cops will lose their badges. Maybe some people should start pressing for that to happen.

  16. wow, this is probably the saddest story ive seen in quite some time. it is rediculous to send a little girl, who helps her friends find pot, to buy cocaine and a GUN from 2 men. almost as rediculous as 20 grams of weed being a felony. this seems doomed from the start, and the incompetance of the FL police force is further proven by losing their wired informant. the fact she was murdered with the firearm she was to buy, shows she was completely out of her element, forced upon her by cowardly pigs with nothing more than hungry eyes and no *nuts*. as americans, we have the right and obligation to never cooperate, never surrender. my heart and prayers are with rachel and her family and friends. i hope they persue legal action to FULLY prosecute EVERYONE involved, to include the death penelty for the policemen responsible for organizing the bust and losing contact.

  17. This story is totally upsetting. My condolences to all Rachels loved ones. Pkease let there be justice for her soul.

  18. Dear Liza,
    Thank you for having the courage and strength to speak so articulately last night on your friend’s behalf, and in honor of her memory. My most heartfelt sympathies go out to you. In my 13+ years advocating on behalf of this issue, I’ve seen a lot of ugliness, but this case in particular leaves one of the deepest pits in my stomach.
    I did not know Rachel personally. But I’ve known so many people like Rachel. And, unfortunately, I’ve known too many people like police chief Jones. Fortunately, he came off like the arrogant, remorseless dreg of a human being he is last night. And while he, and he alone, may be the public face for the Tallahassee police department, it sickens me to know that the officers who made this clandestine, ill-fated — and, according to the state prosecutors office, illegal — deal with Rachel remain nameless and faceless — as do the law enforcement officers who signed off on this so-called ‘sting,’ as do the cops who failed to protect her.
    Police chief Jones is just the tip of the iceberg, and let us all hope that someday ‘justice’ (as limited as it may be in this instance) is served.

  19. Outrageous and infuriating!! This story, like so many others concerning cannabis is just outrageous and frankly in the dark ages! Good grief, if all the people I know who used cannabis were rounded up and placed in jails as “criminals” half the population of my community would be behind bars. WAKE UP AMERICA for God’s sake! Unbelievable the IGNORANCE and negative PROPAGANDA that still thrives in regards to cannabis. I can assure you people that believe Rachel to be a CRIMINAL would scoff at the number of people you know who use it, probably HALF of the TPD. Rachel was clearly a young woman DOING something with her life. She was NOT a criminal. She smoked some GRASS. BIG DEAL. Please WAKE UP AMERICA, EDUCATE yourselves. Do NOT accept what is said about cannabis just because you see it in print or it is reported by the news!! Seek the TRUTH! REFORM the antiquated laws concerning cannabis. SUPPORT NORML. NO PERSON deserves to DIE for smoking a joint! No person deserves hard jail time for smoking a joint! No person deserves jail time for growing a couple of plants. CHANGE the laws! It may very well be, that this same SENSELESS TRAGEDY may happen to someone you love, someone you respect, someone you would never dream of, someone you consider to be “of good moral character”….maybe even yourself. How many more VICTIMS does this country need before CHANGE will occur?!?!?! STOP the INSANITY! REFORM MARIJUANA LAWS NOW!!!

  20. I love how even after these cops show them selfs to be completely incompetent everyone still just takes there word on everything.
    I doubt her killers knew she was an informant, if they did they would never have shot her or even tried to do business with her at all. If she was there to buy cocaine, a gun, and 1500 pills they were expecting her to have thousands of dollars, my guess is they intended to take her money and kill her right from the start. They probably never even had the drugs, only the gun.
    Rachel didn’t see it coming because she wasn’t a criminal, the police didn’t see it because of their greed for a big bust and because they don’t see people like Rachel as human to them she was just a tool.
    The war on drugs is a fascist war on the American people that is doomed to failure that destroys more lives than drugs ever could.
    My condolences to Rachel’s family

  21. This kind of stuff is the very problem we are facing. We need to start holding the people that put innocent people in jeopardy responsible for their actions.
    Considering that as far as I can see, she was never convicted by a judge she was still innocent, not only because all she had was pot, but because under the law we are all innocent until proven guilty!
    Long live NORML and the fight for legalizing Marijuana without such horrendous, tasteless, and tragic events.
    –Suthernreb Administrator

  22. This hasnt just started !! Many yrs. ago in the small town I live in, where my grandpa was deputy sheriff, they stopped my cousin because they knew he used Pot. My grandpa was off duty that night. When they took him to jail, they beat him and hanged him with his own T-shirt.
    Two yrs. ago my uncle died as the result of alcohol abuse at the age of 48. His liver was done for.
    I would much rather see someone I know smoke pot, than I had drink alcohol. The affects that alcohol has on the body are devistating, and they arent quick.
    When I myself went through cancer and chemo. and I was too sick to eat, hurt too much to get out of bed. I could smoke a little pot and I would at least be able to eat and feel like I was half way human again.
    These people dont know what they are talking about !!! And to prove this, an innocent woman is dead !!!
    My prayers are with her family !!!

  23. I followed this story closely because I sadly live in the barbaric state of Florida. The law that passed here recently is absolutely barbaric. The lawmakers and the governor received all of their information (according to the email response I received upon registering my complaint and rationale behind it) from the DEA. Yes, all the information came from the propaganda making machine of the federal government which has zero interest in changing the status quo.
    To continue to submit the American people to propanganda while suppressing the truth is just WRONG. To imprision people for a plant which just grows is to impose morality upon people. There is absolutely NO BASIS for the laws on the books against marijuana. All the laws were passed due to racist scare tactics over 70 yaers ago. It is well past time to move forward and stop ruining peoples’ lives with these draconian laws which have zero validity from any standpoint except from some bizarre moral one and you simply cannot legislate morality – this is allegedly a free country – and now people DIE over these baseless laws.
    Rachel is a martyr and she never should have been.
    My deepest sympathies to her family and loved ones.

  24. im pretty sure that all will agree with me when i say this. but shit like this is why most pot smokers today hate local law inforcement. i meen realy so what the girl liked to smoke a jay every once in a while. not harming any one. but they throw her in a “lions den” and get her killed.
    Rachel. im truely sorry and i dedicate this here bowl to you. may you toke with all the legends in our time in peace.

  25. Oh, this kind of stuff is what really gets to me. I mean, this girl was proof that you could smoke weed and still be successful. She was a bright college student who knew what she wanted to do and just wanted to have a good time. I mean, it shouldnt be a crime, she hadnt harmed anybody. In any way, she had fun with her friends, she met people, she was a typical college student. Yet the police cant see that, they see the drugs and automatically think shes just like the rest of the criminals. Liza, my respect goes out to you for going on there and telling them about her. The cops should be the ones to have to face punishment about it. But no, they will most likely never face what they have done. They will cover it up and wait for people to forget about it. Well I say we shouldnt forget, and not just Rachel, but everyone who has been treated this way, who have been manipulated and lost their lives because of the police incompetance. We should honor them, and fight for them where there fight has ended. My heart and respect goes out to them. RIP Rachel Hoffman, RIP all who have fallen to police incompetance

  26. The Florida law enforcement’s complete disregard for human life is disturbing. To serve and protect? This War on Drugs is going way too far…

  27. Very sad story. If the world was rid of all the pot smokers we’d have hardly anyone left on this planet. It is a shame that Rachel Hoffman was put in the position she was by some stupid ass cops. Leave marijuana alone. PLEASE! There are nasty tweakers running loose and dying everyday, lets get rid of them and then maybe we can talk about the weed-heads. NO ONE DIES FROM SMOKING TOO MUCH GREEN. Also, it seems to be this country is about “going green” rather in a clean way or for pot smokers. Cut us a break and worry about real crimes! K COOL THANKS

  28. because a drug deal moved down the road police lost control of the situation and that makes Rachel a criminal? this seems more like a war on open minded citizens, not drugs.

  29. I have read all the comments and did not see the program. But I get the jest of it.
    My prayers go out to her friends and family, I know she will be missed! BUT NEVER forgotten!
    I will smoke one just for her!
    Phoenix Beach

  30. Criminal, crime ? Rachel Hoffman…….. off the streets ?
    There are an infinite number of rational intelligent people regardless of if they use marijuana or not – that believe it should be legal. At the very least such a fact should help society understand ………. Marijuana or weed is certainly not a hard core drug. More destroyed lives and more violent crimes are related to crack, powder cocaine, or heroin intra-venous users and yes even alcohol………. then plain old mellow weed.
    Unfortunately, Rachel Hoffman broke the law – she got caught up in the nonchalant attitude of her peer group. It may very well be a dumb law but it’s still the law. Maybe the senseless death of Rachel will help educate people to the reality of what a dumb law this really is.
    Let’s face it – without some kind of law and order we’d all be in big trouble but this law that bans marijuana needs to change. So until we actually change a law that many say is wrong, even ridiculous – our police must enforce such law. Police got a rough job. However, sometimes within their own peer group – they get carried away with the task at hand
    Hindsight is always easy after the fact; but it’s truly bizarre beyond belief that this even happened. It’s tragic that more precautions were not taken beforehand. For cops to pit a little girl against two thugs in a drug sting operation that involved a gun is sickening.
    What crime did Rachel really commit to deserve this? Rachel Hoffman, caught twice with a “baggie” of marijuana. A drug that many feel should be legal; and certainly not punishable with even one day in prison…… let alone 4 years. Ironic, isn’t it ? …. That it cost Rachel her life. Rachel a criminal involved in a crime ? That would be laughable if this wasn’t so tragic. Now, Rachel is off the streets forever and that’s a long time; and for what ?
    Many people realize there are bad hard core harmful drugs out there – but weed ain’t one of them. Weed has a make love not war effect. Medical marijuana relieves pain and suffering. Even the late night comedy shows goof around with pot jokes – explain the worse crime of taking a few tokes is raiding the cookie jar afterward. Celebrity guests on the shows readily admit to use of cannabis and many of the audience likewise. It’s a given that most of the musicians do inhale. It’s abundant everywhere including college campuses and in social settings virtually anywhere there’s a party. Good people, productive citizens literally millions of them – roll a joint, light up, toke, pass it around, relax and enjoy life. They hurt no one. Socially weed is more acceptable then ever before. Weed has a relaxing aura of “Peace on earth.” Rachel Hoffman was one of those peace loving people.
    Rachel Hoffman a beautiful human being, a young college graduate with plans for even more education and tangible career goals is gone. The world lost a fine young lady.
    Society needs to re-evaluate marijuana. American people should be outraged over the absurdity of these marijuana laws and methods to enforce them.

  31. “To Protect and Serve”, that hasn’t been the true motto for a very, very long time. I think that marshall law would be better at this point.

  32. it’s not a war on drugs it’s a war on personal freedom. the bankers steel homes the brokers steel life savings,and now the police are taiking LIVES. WHEN WILL IT EVER END???????????????????

  33. Jesus…those cops should be ashamed of themselves. If anything, their more criminal than she ever was.

  34. Remember these people won’t change on their own. We all must work together to ‘help’ people like this begin to see the light.

  35. You know, even if marijuana isn’t seen in many eyes as a medical plant for everything it has been proven to be useful for, it is still a mood enhancer, much like Risperdal, which I take, which is much more of a potential drug to become dependent on… The same can be said for Ecstasy as a mood enhancer, but that’s something for another group of people to discuss.
    For all of the time that I actually smoked marijuana, I can truly say it is the best mood enhancer and I believe it to be much more effective than Risperdal, not to mention alot less addictive. I stopped smoking only due to it being dangerous dealing with people in the black market, and the harsh penalties in Kentucky.

  36. Which war are we going to fight? The war on drugs or the war on people? People ultimately pay the price for all wars. But this war on people — (exactly what it is) — is very costly in terms of human suffering. It’s a war against people looking for pain relief! What is it about society that we can ignore suffering? I can most nearly guarantee that within your circle of influence is someone who has suffered, perhaps like me.
    I am a chronic pain patient, hurt twenty-plus years ago in an accident which was not my fault. I suffered for 18 of those years with very little help from the medical profession. I was told basically to “take an aspirin and don’t call back.” Why the lack of compassion? Can we blame doctors? The practice of medicine no longer resides in the realm of art – but of business. Life and death decisions are made fast, black and white with little room for compassion. Doctors are mandated to treat pain, but the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is second-guessing doctors. In effect, they are practicing medicine.
    What would we as a society do if we discovered a common plant that would relieve massive suffering? What if this plant could keep you or your child alive through cancer? What if it was remarkably safe, non-toxic and did not prove to be physiologically addictive? What if the only dangers of using it paled when comparing it to its usefulness, and for that matter, was far safer and more effective than currently available prescription medications? What if our own government had studied it and found it to be safely useful for many medical conditions, as a pain reliever, as a muscle-relaxer, an anti-depressant , an anti-nausea drug, and could keep glaucoma patients from going blind? What if the most notable side-affect was that it caused the seriously ill to feel euphoric, distracted from their suffering? Would we rejoice, that we had found such a useful substance – or fear it?
    What if this substance was no stranger to medicine but had been at one time the most prescribed medication in the USA, listed in the most ancient and modern pharmacopoeias, with recorded use by mankind for thousands of years and no recorded deaths? What if the DEA’s own judge, Francis Young, after studying the evidence concluded, “the evidence clearly shows that (this substance) is capable of relieving the distress of great numbers of very ill people…it would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for the DEA to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance.” Judge Young also said, “(this substance) in its natural form is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.”
    We don’t have to ask ‘what if’. This substance, this plant — cannabis — is well known by mankind for its usefulness. And yet it has been placed in the same category as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, as having “no medical value”. This is absurd — on one hand the government is saying “no medical value” but yet supplying it — and at the same time incarcerating those who in good faith thought they were following their state’s medical marijuana laws! Talk about capricious!
    What is it about our puritanical society that we would rather see suffering than risk a sick person could feel euphoric? Have we thought about tobacco and alcohol — what medical value do they have? What are the social implications of these dangerous substances?
    The DEA is not immune to pressure. In order to maintain a budget, they must produce tangible results. Follow the political and monetary strings and it will lead you to the huge power that pharmaceutical businesses wield. There are more lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry on Capital Hill than there are representatives. What would it do to the bottom line if folks could actually grow their own medicine? It would be tantamount to growing a money tree! No wonder studies and reports get ignored! We do not need to ask ‘what if?’ We need to ask ‘WHY?’
    So the DEA is worried about sending the wrong message to our children. What message is sent when we would sooner let suffering go unabated? What message do they receive when they realize the dangers of cannabis are grossly exaggerated? Do they then conclude that they have also done the same with other, truly deadly drugs? Talk about lack of credibility!
    The DEA needs to get out of the doctors offices and pursue the criminal drug trade — those who would sell to anyone with money. The DEA needs to go after the dangerous, deadly addictive drugs that unquestionably have no medical value.
    Doctors and sick people are easy targets. We need to fight dangerous drugs as hard as we need to fight ignorance. A sick person would not be “supporting terrorists” if they were able to legally and without fear, get the medicine needed for them to lead a normal life, whether that medicine is opioid analgesics or cannibinoid analgesics. I’m not talking about people seeking a high. Merely relief. The decisions SHOULD belong to the individual, and to their doctor. Not to the Government.

  37. Another sad story from the senseless drug war.
    Disgusting and brutal.
    My condolences to Rachel’s family and to all her friends.

  38. The cops will always be devious and put their agenda above human decency. Rachel was very unwise for becoming an informant. It’s very sad this lack of wisdom lead to her death at the hands of these badge wearing serpents. I hope youngsters will learn to accept responsibility for their actions and not try to assuage the consequences by RATTING on someone else.

  39. What Rachael didn’t know was that they were going to put her in jail anyway. They use scare tactics to get you to cooperate but what they don’t tell you is you are helping them build a better case against you, and you are going to go to jail anyway! probably not for years but it is going to burden you and cost you money and your job and then there is the otherside of the the coin where you get shot for snitchin’!!!
    Fucking incompitent police officers are more of the threat than the cure!!!
    I really feel for this girls family

  40. I truley beleave that Obama will do somthing about this.We just have to VOTE!! him into office,he is our best shot ever.Everybody get out and VOTE!! when the time comes and take someone with you.

  41. Duke Devenport,
    Obama is just another sold out whore who will do or say anything to get in office, but will actually follow thru with none of it once he gets the office he seeks. A vote for Obama is a vote for the same old thing we’ve had for the past nearly 100 years.
    Ron Paul would have changed things, but the GOP and the media rejected him, and the sheeple ignored him due to that. None of the other candidates will change a athing so we are screwed for yet another 4 years.

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