04/30/2015 11:18 am ET Updated Jun 30, 2015

The Ultimate Irony: The Decimation of Families to Protect the Children

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Schools should be a laboratory for learning... a safe place to develop critical thinking.

Mothers from across the country are appalled at the outrageous action of the schools and police, when they seized an 11-year-old child and arrested his mother after he defended medical marijuana during a DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) school drug presentation in Kansas on March 24, 2015. Is this freedom of speech? Does government encouraging children to spy and turn in their parents sound familiar?

We should not tolerate traumatizing a child in order to promote ideology that is not science-based and sound. My colleague Joyce Rivera, founder of St. Ann's Corner of Harm Reduction in New York declared that, "This kind of police action is a betrayal by the schools of both the child and the parent."

This is another example of wasted resources that are critically needed. The DARE program has been proven to be ineffective. Beyond T-shirts, freebies and slogans, there is no evidence that "just say no" rhetoric has been effective in preventing drug experimentation and drug use among students. Back in 2003 the U.S. General Accountability Office concluded that the program was sometimes counterproductive, with DARE graduates having higher than average rates of drug use, and yet our government continues to support this program or variations on this theme.

Our schools should be offering a reality-based, curriculum that teaches children how to reduce the harms associated with drug use and addiction. Pamela Clark from Transforming Youth Recovery told me that, "We looked at 184 K-12 prevention programs used in schools in the U.S. and found 17 out of 184 were actually evidence-based programs."

I am the lead organizer of the Moms United to End the War on Drugs national campaign to stop the stigmatization and criminalization of people who use drugs. We are urgently calling for health-oriented strategies and widespread drug policy reform to end the violence, mass incarceration, and accidental overdose deaths that are a result of punitive and discriminatory drug policies. The 5th fundamental right in our Moms United Bill of Rights states: "We have the right to honest, accurate, safety first drug education in our schools rather than scare tactics."

"Cops in the Classroom" teaching drug education can be as out of place as "Cops in the Waiting Room," and it doesn't respect an individual's right to privacy. It is a form of intimidation that interferes with both education and treatment. It reinforces the notion that drug use should be an illegal and criminal justice based issue as opposed to a social and healthcare concern. This exemplifies overreaching and fear-based control over our communities, and it silences honest and truth-seeking communication.

Sadly, the mother in this case who is a motivational speaker and author may face drug and child endangerment charges. She uses medicinal marijuana to help treat her Crohn's disease. Her son is in temporary protective custody, and the DA is considering removing him long-term from his home.

The 9th right in our Moms Bill of Rights states that "We have the right to communities where our children can live, learn and play without fear of drug war violence." This is yet another dramatic example of the chaos that these tactics cause and how detrimental it can be to our children. We hope that Shona Banda receives the justice that she deserves and that her son is returned immediately. They are two more victims of a drug war that decimates families and violates human rights.

Diane Goldstein, a Retired Police Lieutenant and Board member of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) as well as a steering committee member of Moms United to End the War on Drugs brought her perspective as a Mom and a Cop to our conversation. She said "We already have enough documented abuses by law enforcement and social services agencies who have taken children hostage despite the absence of evidence of neglect or abuse. We have seen significant damage done to families through "drug endangered children" laws that replace common sense and an evaluation of individual circumstances with zero-tolerance laws that foster injustice."

I am shocked and dismayed by the continued violence of parental rights in the name of public safety and the "war on drugs," With what we know now about the benefits of medicinal marijuana, the flawed foster care system, and the overall devastation of punitive prohibitionist policies, it is shameful that these violations of human rights and public trust continue to happen and be tolerated."

Gretchen Burns Bergman is Co-Founder & Executive Director of A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment & Healing) and Lead Organizer of the national Moms United to End the War on Drugs.

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