Goodrum’s case isn’t unusual. Drug-free school zone laws are rarely if ever used to prosecute sales of drugs to minors. Such cases are largely a figment of our popular imagination—a lingering hangover from the drug war hysteria of the 1980s. Yet state legislatures have made the designated zones both larger and more numerous, to the point where they can blanket whole towns. In the process, they have turned minor drug offenses into lengthy prison sentences almost anywhere they occur.
In some cases, police have set up controlled drug buys inside school zones to secure harsher sentences. That gives prosecutors immense leverage to squeeze plea deals out of defendants with the threat of long mandatory minimum sentences.
In recent years, this approach has begun to trouble some state lawmakers, and even some prosecutors are growing uncomfortable with the enormous power—and in some cases, the obligation—they have been handed to lock away minor drug offenders.