Recently, California student Daniel Chong was awarded $4.1 million dollars by the US government for his incarceration by the DEA. Chong sued for $20 million dollars after he and some of his friends had their house raided by the DEA during their 4/20 celebration.
After an officer forgot about him, Chong was left handcuffed in a cell for four and a half days without food or water. Chong resorted to attempting suicide, and drinking his own urine to stay hydrated. Chong suffered from hallucinations when he was found in his cell and the physical repercussions were so severe that it took five days to recover.
The tragic irony of the Daniel Chong case lies in the blatant contradiction of America's drug war, which is that prohibition will protect young people. When the DEA arrested Chong for suspected drug possession, many might’ve claimed that it was a tactic to protect him from the dangers of illicit drug use. The irony is that those tactics almost killed him.
The protection of youth has been a classic mantra of prohibitive drug strategies in our policy. From Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No,” to the adoption of D.A.R.E. programs in public schools, young people have been the fuel of the gas guzzling drug war machine. But how had our policies really affected our youth?
In 2006, Students for Sensible Drug Policy put out a report that found one out of every 400 students were denied financial aid because of drug convictions. The current federal aid penalties for a drug violation can still result in being denied financial aid eligibility. A college student such as Chong is at risk of losing that aid that ranges between a period of one year to an indefinite amount of time. A drug conviction might even result in a student having to pay back financial loans as well as permanently losing eligibility. Is denying access to education really the answer for illicit drug use?
According to the Children Defense Fund, a child is arrested for a drug offense every three minutes. Despite all those young people being arrested for drug use, kids and teens are not deterred. Many find that it’s easier to gain illicit drugs than alcohol or tobacco. Wouldn’t legalizing marijuana in a regulated market keep it out of the hands of the youth?
What about the children whose families are ripped apart by drug policies? The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that by mid-2007, more than half the prison population was made up parents of children under the age of 18. How has the drug war protected those children that now on their own?
Daniel Chong is an extreme example of the tragic irony of our drug war. While we claim that the War on Drugs is protecting “young people,” the draconian policies are instead ruining lives without creating any progress in curbing drug use. The reality was that placing Chong in a prison cell where he had the chance to be forgotten nearly cost him his life.
The tragic irony of Daniel Chong is the goal of the drug war, to protect youth from the consequences, led to same disastrous results that were aimed to be stopped.
Brian Rabadeau is an intern for the Drug Policy Alliance.