by Chris Hansen, Dateline correspondent
I can remember as clear as the day it happened, that first donnybrook I had with my father over marijuana. It was a Saturday morning in the summer of 1979. I had just finished my sophomore year at Michigan State University and was working Monday through Friday hauling drywall, earning enough to pay half my tuition. It's still the most physically demanding job I've ever had.
It was about 11:00 in the morning. I was sitting at the kitchen counter, drinking the fresh-squeezed orange juice and eating the super-sized cheddar and bacon omelet my mother had just prepared. In walks my father from the garage after running his morning errands with my two younger sisters. I casually ask him "Hey, what's up?" The response was not good. As fate would have it, the night before as I was driving my dad's black Chevy Monte Carlo back from a concert with my pals, one of them mistakenly left his pot pipe on the passenger-side floor. This, of course, was found by my middle sister and given to my father, who was now throwing it at Mickey Lolich velocity at my head.
Thirty years have gone by since the summer of reduced-driving privileges. A lot has changed, yet much is the same. When I was in college, personal-use marijuana was akin to a traffic violation. Today, getting caught can have more serious consequences: a drug diversion program, community service, counseling and if you get caught while on probation, jail. The story of what happened to Rachel Hoffman is not meant to spur a debate over the de-criminalization of marijuana laws. There is a convincing argument to be made that it's a gateway drug and in the best-case scenario, daily use in colleges results in skipped classes and liberal arts degrees that take seven years to complete.
Yet, as the father of two teenagers, I am a realist. Kids will experiment. Rachel Hoffman had good and loving parents. She held a solid B average at Florida State University. There was little sign of trouble. Rachel, however, had developed a taste for high-quality weed and to afford it she sold it to her close friends. She was busted not once, but twice and this put her in a precarious position. Tallahassee Police offered her a deal: Go undercover as a drug informant, and you'll get out from under charges that could have landed you in prison.
Rachel agreed to the deal. What follows is a story of desperation. Rachel was desperate to get of trouble. The police were desperate to make a big bust, and the ultimate targets of the sting were desperate for cash as they decided to take advantage of a 23-year-old woman who had $13,000 in police money in her purse trying to buy cocaine, ecstasy and a gun. It was a recipe for disaster and it ended with Rachel shot to death on a rural Florida road. It was heartbreaking as a parent interviewing Rachel's mom and dad. But I was committed to doing it and showing it to all of you so something like this never happens again.
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