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Virginia school suspends an 11-year-old for one year over a leaf that wasn’t marijuana

huffingtonpost 




These are Japanese maple leaves, not marijuana leaves. Does your principal know the difference?


Earlier this school year, a sixth-grader in the gifted-and-talented program at Bedford Middle School in Virginia was suspended for one year after an assistant principal found something that looked like a marijuana leaf in his backpack.


The student, the 11-year-old son of two school teachers, had to enroll in the district's alternative education program and be homeschooled. He was evaluated by a psychiatrist for substance abuse problems, and charged with marijuana possession in juvenile court. In the months since September, he's become withdrawn, depressed, and he suffers from panic attacks. He is worried his life is over, and that he will never get into college.


The only problem? The "leaf" found in the student's backpack wasn't what authorities thought it was -- it tested negative for marijuana three separate times.


All of this is laid out in jaw-dropping detail by Dan Casey in a story in the Roanoke Times today. While the juvenile court dropped its case against the student after the tests turned up negative, the school system has been far less forgiving. That's because stringent anti-drug policies in school districts in Virginia and elsewhere consider "imitation" drugs to be identical to real ones for disciplinary purposes.


The school's lawyer, Jim Guynn, is quoted in the Roanoke Times article defending the policy on the basis that "it's a pretty standard policy across the Commonwealth." In 2011, for instance, four seventh-graders in Chesapeake, Virginia were suspended over bringing a bag of oregano to school. A quick Google search suggests similar policies are in effect in many other states as well.


It doesn't matter if your son or daughter brings a real pot leaf to school, or if he brings something that looks like a pot leaf -- okra, tomato, maple, buckeye, etc. If your kid calls it marijuana as a joke, or if another kid thinks it might be marijuana, that's grounds for expulsion.


The Bedford sixth-grader has been allowed to return to school starting today. But he has to attend a different school, separate from his former friends and peers, and he's still under strict probation until this September. The terms of his original suspension letter state that he'll be searched for drugs at the beginning and end of every school day until his probation is over -- all this despite never having possessed any drugs to begin with.



It's unclear what exactly transpired before the assistant principal discovered the leaf in the Bedford student's backpack. School authorities say the student was showing it to other kids and telling them it was pot. The student's parents say he never would have done such a thing, and that it was planted there as a joke by another kid.


Either scenario raises troubling questions given the severity of the punishment. Kids, especially at that age, joke about things all the time. When I was in sixth grade my friends and I would dump out Pixy Sticks on our desks and arrange the powdered sugar in neat little lines, like cocaine, although I don't think any of us was dumb enough to try to snort it. We only knew what cocaine was because of D.A.R.E., the ineffective school anti-drug campaign of the 80s and 90s.


Under rules in place today in Virginia and elsewhere, we would have been considered possessing "imitation cocaine" and subject to expulsion.


The Bedford case is a microcosm of drug policy -- especially marijuana policy -- at the national level. Most of the harm associated with marijuana use comes not from using marijuana, but from getting caught up in the strict punishments meted out by the criminal justice system for using it.


The harm that the Bedford school district inflicted on this boy is far greater than any harm he could have incurred by eating an actual marijuana leaf, or even smoking it, or even smoking a dozen leaves.


Fortunately, kids are resilient. With any luck the student will start to bounce back once his year of probation and mandatory pat-downs is over. But as the parent of two boys, the prospect of this sort of ordeal terrifies me.

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zero tolerance in school is how they start the school to prison conveyor belt.

Laws and rules over youth, either to "save the kids" or restrict their movements and access, such as curfews and age restrictions on access to alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, books, movies, pornography or even access to the legal system, of course negatively impact youth's freedom. The advantage for the State to create and maintain restrictive youth laws, is that it becomes a small leap to later apply similar restrictions to adult population: for instance, limits on meeting sizes (a "mob" is defined as more than three people gathering together), general curfews or even martial law, or making pornography illegal altogether.


If innocent and pure youth shouldn't have access to pornography, the argument that adults have a right to it is weakened, if only because the idea of censorship being righteous and positive is already ingrained in everyone's mind, if only due to the State's imposition upon human rights.


As in the news item above, we should question if youth cannot wear or look how they want and identify with whatever group they wish, if only to self servingly protect adult's rights.


For example, I suppose even nowadays kids can't chew gum in school, and Singapore fines importers, sellers, and even users of chewing gum. Singapore is a good example of having very low crime, but at the cost of personal liberties, with some of the most restrictive and punitive laws around.

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This shows how much of an influence the Puritan Ethic still has in our society.


No music, no dancing, no sex, no drugs, no alcohol, no fun, etc., because all these activities lead down the road to the destruction of society. The funny thing is that I think the Puritan's ideas have some validity, but only if these activities are unrestricted. A little bit of music, dancing, etc isn't going to ruin your life, but doing these things all the time will lead to problems in your life unless you are independently wealthy. Singapore has decided to have the government regulate these activities while the U.S. kinda wants people to regulate themselves.

Now for the icing on the cake:


I believe that small amounts of marijuana could help people regulate themselves.

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