No one has ever died from smoking marijuana. But getting busted with a small amount of marijuana has led to countless tragic deaths.
This week, Shelley Hilliard, a 19-year-old woman from Detroit, was killed after working as a police informant. On October 20, Hilliard was arrested for a small amount of marijuana. The police offered her a way out: She could set up a drug deal. She called a drug dealer and said she had someone who wanted to buy $335 of cocaine and marijuana. When the dealer showed up he was arrested. The dealer was released, and three days later Hilliard was found dead in the streets. The dealer has been charged with murder.
Hilliard tragic death brings back memories of Rachel Hoffman, the 23-year-old, Florida State graduate from Tallahassee who also worked as an informant after she was busted with a small amount of marijuana and Ecstasy. Hoffman was sent alone on a "buy and bust" and was given $13,000 to buy Ecstasy, cocaine and a gun. The men shot Hoffman five times, stole her car and credit card, and dumped her body into a ditch. This week Tallahassee approved a $2.6 million settlement with Rachel's parents.
These two women should still be with us on this earth, but were instead pawns in an unwinnable drug war that led to their violent deaths.
There are so many sick aspects of the failed drug war, but law enforcement's forcing people with a drug arrest to choose between draconian prison sentences or becoming an informant is one of the most nauseating. My friend and colleague, Anthony Papa, was sentenced to 15-years-to-life after a bowling buddy convinced him to drop off an envelope of cocaine in exchange for $500. The bowling buddy had been busted for drugs and the police said he was facing a long mandatory minimum drug sentence unless he could help them bust more people. The more people he helped them set up, the less prison time he would get. So he ruined his friend Papa's life (and many others) by setting him up in a drug sting.
There are more than 1.6 million drug arrests in the U.S. every year - the vast majority for mere possession. So many deaths and so many people are behind bars because police use people who get caught with small amounts of drugs to set up family, friends and strangers.
Tony Newman is the director of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance (www.drugpolicy.org)