Working at the Drug Policy Alliance for the last twelve years I have read and heard countless stories of people having their lives ruined because of our country's cruel war on drugs. Last weekend, the nationally syndicated show This American Life highlighted a story that is so insane, you don't know whether to laugh or puke.
Last year in three high schools in Florida, several undercover police officers posed as students. The undercover cops went to classes, became Facebook friends and flirted with the other students. One 18-year-old honor student named Justin fell in love with an attractive 25-year-old undercover cop after spending weeks sharing stories about their lives, texting and flirting with each other.
One day she asked Justin if he smoked pot. Even though he didn't smoke marijuana, the love-struck teen promised to help find some for her. Every couple of days she would text him asking if he had the marijuana. Finally, Justin was able to get it to her. She tried to give him $25 for the marijuana and he said he didn't want the money -- he got it for her as a present.
A short while later, the police did a big sweep and arrested 31 students -- including Justin. Almost all were charged with selling a small amount of marijuana to the undercover cops. Now Justin has a felony hanging over his head.
This story is not unique to Florida and it reminds me of 18-year-old Mitchell Lawrence, a young man from Great Barrington, Mass., who served two years in jail for selling a joint to an undercover cop. The officer befriended Lawrence and his friends and would hang out with them. One day the cop asked if Lawrence had any weed. Lawrence gave the cop a joint. The cop handed him $20. Lawrence hesitated, but the cop insisted on giving him the money. "Selling" the joint, because they were hanging out less than a 1000 feet from a school, and thus was considered a "drug free school zone," carried a mandatory minimum two-year sentence.
The drug war is sick. How much money was wasted by our law enforcement to get these few bags of marijuana "off the streets"? How do these cops look themselves in the mirror? Seducing 18-year-olds to fall in love or pretending to be friends and then tricking them into procuring small amounts of marijuana so they can charge them with felonies is beyond slimy and diametrically opposed to the officers' charge to "serve and protect."
We often hear that we need to fight the drug war to protect the kids. As these despicable examples show, more often the drug war is ruining young people's lives and doing more harm than good.
Tony Newman is the director of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance (www.drugpolicy.org) .