[UPDATE: October 30, the family of the young man entrapped by police in this case have filed a lawsuit. Read more here.]
In late 2012, a Riverside County, California police officer infiltrated a local high school, befriended a vulnerable, special needs student and then proceeded to send more than 60 text messages begging the student to buy him weed. The student, who had been diagnosed with autism as well as bipolar disorder, Tourettes, and several anxiety disorders (and noticeably handicapped) became overwhelmed by the pressure, and the desire to keep his only friend. He finally agreed to buy pot for “Dan” (the undercover cop). It took the teenager weeks to find anything, eventually buying half of a joint from from a homeless man downtown.
Then, as reported by Reason Magazine, “On December 11, 2012 armed police officers walked into [the student’s] classroom and arrested him in front of his peers. He was taken to the juvenile detention center, along with the 21 other arrestees, where he was kept for 48 hours. First hand reports claim that the juvenile center was caught off guard by the large number of arrests and that some youths had to sleep on the floor, using toilet paper as pillows.” The child was also expelled from school.
This story is a grotesque example of how our nation’s marijuana policies continue to encourage the use of barbaric and predatory tactics by law enforcement officials. They are financially incentivised to not only target otherwise law abiding citizens, but actively work to manipulate innocent children. Aside from the gross misappropriation of limited police resources, this incident clearly highlights many of the tragic implications marijuana prohibition continues to have on our nation’s youth. Further, zero tolerance policies in schools have proven to be ineffective in the very purpose for which they were originally designed. The practice of engaging in high school undercover drug stings has proven to do nothing to curb teen drug use. It does however, leave the student body traumatized and resentful of law enforcement, making them less likely to report legitimate crimes in the future. It is an egregiously unfair and punitive practice by educational institutions to expel students as punishment for any infraction of a rule, a significant portion of which are for non-violent low level drug violations. How does removing a minor from what is intended to be a stable, nurturing environment do anything to help prepare these individuals to lead responsible productive lives? They are now forced to sit at home with nothing to do but hang out with other expelled peers, or in a juvenile detention center.
One can argue that this all leads back to the financial incentives driving police officers to arrest as many individuals on drug charges as possible. Every year, law enforcement jurisdictions are given federal grants, swat gear, overtime pay and assets based solely on their number of drug arrests. Perhaps it is a result of former Governor Schwarzenegger’s passage of SB 1449 in 2010, which reduced the crime of possession of an ounce of pot from a misdemeanor to an infraction for adults 18 and over. Now, the only way to keep up their arrest rates is by targeting minors – whose charges remain misdemeanors. It is time to stop the madness and put an end to these insane zero-tolerance policies. Our children’s future depends on it.
**The family of the student framed by an undercover officer have set up a fundraiser to support their lawsuit against the school district. Click here for more information.