While the War on Drugs is finally starting to take its last breaths, the police are still acting like it’s the height of the 1980’s. While medical researchers and doctors are discovering a seemingly endless array of benefits using cannabis as treatment for a number of physical and psychological ailments, politicians and law enforcement agencies are behaving like extras in a Dragnet episode. They still refuse to accept that marijuana (referred to as cannabis in the medical community) has actual benefits for many people other than just a recreational substance. It is still listed as a Schedule I drug alongside heroin, LSD, ecstasy, methaqualone, and peyote, all of which are defined as having no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.
In Vice’s Undercover Cop Tricks Autistic Student into Selling Him Weed we learn about Jesse, a kid from Temecula, who was arrested for giving marijuana to a police officer. His parents tell us that Jesse was born with Asperger’s Syndrome, a mental disorder on the autistic spectrum that usually impedes a person’s ability to grasp social concepts, and can usually make them seem withdrawn and antisocial. Children with Asperger’s often have difficulty making friends and being able to follow societal norms (such as waiting in line, not pointing at strangers, and making eye contact). Often these children will gravitate to things that have logical rules with very little change, such as mathematics and music, while social concepts that can fluctuate greatly, are more difficult for them to follow.
Jesse’s parents tell us that growing up, Jesse often was unable to make friends and understand social cues and had no friends by the time he was in high school. Jesse was often called a “retard” at school. Then, Jesse finally made a friend, Daniel Briggs. However, Daniel Briggs was not like most of the other students at Jesse’s high school, because Daniel was an undercover cop.
While Washington and Colorado have moved to decriminalize marijuana, the Fed still gives money to police agencies that have high arrest numbers for drug offenses. And with many state and local police agencies receiving cuts in their funding in recent years, these rewards are made all the more enticing. Therefore, many agencies have gone to extreme measures to get more money, engaging in 21 Jump Street type tactics such as posing as high school students.
Decades ago the LAPD conducted similar stings throughout their county, but were forced to stop when evidence showed that the operations overwhelming targeted poor, minority, or special needs students. These stings were also found to have no impact on the sale and use of drugs in LA county.
The Temecula police, decided that the second safest city in America was not safe enough, began their own sting on high school students, known as “Operation Glass House.” The police, disguised as students, began attending three high schools within the Temecula Unified School District with the intent to purchase drugs from students. This practice is also known by another name; entrapment. Entrapment is known as a practice whereby a law enforcement agent induces a person to commit a crime they would have otherwise been unlikely to commit. Unfortunately, these cases are often difficult to prove in court and current Zero Tolerance laws in California severely punish students who buy, sell, or use drugs. Furthermore, these police officers were also allowed to view student records without a warrant, records that are supposed to be private.
Daniel Briggs was sent to the same high school that Jesse attended, and immediately began asking any student he came in contact with if they could sell him drugs. He would even interrupt conversations between students simply to ask for drugs, which any teenager could tell you, is not normal teenage behavior. Eventually, Daniel met Jesse and began befriending one of the few people at the school who was desperate for a friend. At first Jesse’s parents and Jesse were thrilled that he had finally made a friend after so many years of trying to be accepted by his peers. But Daniel was not interested in friendship and quickly began pestering Jesse to get him drugs, texting him endlessly and threatening to end their friendship if Jesse did not give him drugs. Daniel even went so far as to tell Jesse to give him Jesse’s medications for Asperger’s, claiming he had neurological issues.
Jesse decided to try and help his friend with his “issues” and tried to go to a marijuana dispensary to purchase marijuana for Daniel. However, Jesse was turned away for not having a medical marijuana card and had to resort to other means. Eventually Jesse was able to purchase two half-ounce bags of marijuana from a homeless man (which is worth about twenty bucks). Jesse happily gave (not sold) the drugs to his friend, Daniel, and just like that, Jesse was arrested and accused of selling drugs to a police officer. Two other students from Jesse’s high school were also charged for selling, as well as twenty-two students from the other two high schools. Nine of these students had mental disabilities.
For Jesse, these events were especially traumatizing. In the video, Jesse’s parents describe how he felt betrayed by the officer. Jesse began turning inward again, afraid of trusting others again. Jesse would eventually be diagnosed with PTSD following the event.
Meanwhile, the local news lost their collective minds, calling the arrests a crackdown on a “drug ring.” Two of the students also arrested gave similar details of the events that lead to their arrests; an undercover police officer would try to befriend them and then immediately start pressuring them to sell them drugs until the students gave in. One of the judges in the trials claimed the students were selling meth, LSD, and cocaine in addition to marijuana, and which all of those interviewed in the video deny doing. Jesse ended up being the only student not expelled from the district, however, he was forced to walk in his high school graduation a year late, and will now have difficulty applying for college, student loans, scholarships, and will be ineligible for Pell Grants due to this incident.
While this may sound like a small-time operation put together by a band of crooked cops looking to make money take note; this is happening across the country to countless numbers of innocent students. These police lie, extort, harass, and manipulate vulnerable student populations to commit crimes they would have otherwise never committed. The War on Drugs has already been proved to be a useless venture, incarcerating 43 million people since its inception and leading this country to spend more money on prisons than on education.
This “war” has moved away from the idea of public safety and created a greater divide between the poor and affluent, with little punishment given to police who break the law themselves. The Brennan Center for Justice found in multiple studies that the War on Drugs damages families, communities, and the economy, creating a system where once non-violent individuals will turn to crime when they are locked out of applying to most jobs due to their incarceration (creating a larger crime problem rather than solving a smaller one). Even politicians have begun admitting that the War on Drugs has allowed for institutionalized racism and rampant police corruption. The War on Drugs may go on records to be one of America’s most pointless “war” in our history. It has cost an untold number in tax dollars spent, created a system of political and law enforcement corruption, re-institutionalized racism, funneled dollars away from education to punishment, and done absolutely nothing to curb drug use in the United States (in fact, heroin use is up). But perhaps the most damaging legacy of the War on Drugs will be the people who became entangled in the web law enforcement officers set to get more money from the Fed. This process has eroded the American system of justice and will only end when the public demands a more compassionate, empirically-based solution to drug use in this country.