Yesterday, alleged neck grabber and Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser handed down a narrow 4-3 decision holding that a school district can completely strip a student of his right to an education because the student committed a minor marijuana offense:
After a 15-year old Madison East High School student was expelled for bringing marijuana to school in 2009, the Dane County Circuit Court adjudged the student delinquent and ordered the Madison Metropolitan School District (District) to provide him with alternative educational services during his expulsion period, up to three semesters. [...]
The majority concluded that while school districts may be encouraged to provide alternative education to expelled students, certain provisions of the Juvenile Justice Code do not override the District’s explicit authority to expel students and refuse further educational services.
In essence, the case turned on the tension between two state statutes, one allowing school districts to expel students and the other permitting judges to require juvenile delinquents to attend some form of schooling. Prosser and his fellow conservatives held that the first statute controls, while the three more progressive justices believed the second controlled.
Wisconsin’s constitution provides that public schools “shall be free and without charge for tuition to all children between the ages of 4 and 20 years,” but the practical effect of this decision is that a child will have no access to education for as much as a year and a half. The mind baffles at how anyone could think that depriving him of public schooling for this long will do anything other than doom him to a lifetime of the very delinquency that led to his expulsion in the first place.
Nearly half of all Americans will try marijuana by their senior year in high school. It is simply not practical to impose draconian sanctions on each of these children, even if it were a good idea. Nor would it be anything other than disastrous if they were all subject to criminal sanctions if they used marijuana again after they became adults.
So, of course, we don’t arrest or expel every single person who smokes a joint. Most casual marijuana users — including the last three presidents of the United States — go their entire lives without ever suffering consequences. Meanwhile, a handful of disproportionately poor Americans lose a terrible lottery and obtain a career-destroying criminal record as a result.
Prosser’s decision will likely leave doom one Wisconsin student to a lifetime of hopelessness, but it is only a symptom of much larger problem with American drug policy. If nearly half the nation will use marijuana by the time they graduate from high school, maybe that’s a good sign that we shouldn’t threaten every one of those children to a potentially life-destroying expulsion or arrest.