Arizona Lawmakers Kill Drug Bill Penned by High Schoolers

By Dirk Hanson 04/26/11

Students came up with what most officials agreed was a great idea for fighting drugs in schools. But the state legislature taught the students a lesson: Drafting state laws is not for minors.

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An Arizona anti-drug bill is punked by publicity-shy politicians.
Photo via thinkstockphotos

When they were assigned to draft a legislative bill for Linda Brunk’s sociology class, students at Boulder Creek High School in Anthem, Arizona, took the exercise very seriously. With the aid of a prominent state representative, the class of 30 juniors and seniors crafted a drug-education bill that garnered so much praise for its rationality and potential efficacy that the state legislature was reported to be set to make it law. Mindful of the Arizona's growing meth epidemic, the students decided to focus their proposed legislation on drugs. The bill they produced required schools to send letters to student families, and hold a community forum, in the event of three separate incidents of suspension or expulsion involving the same type of drug. Their efforts received a ton of media attention. It seemed like a pretty sensible and fairly innocuous effort at prevention. But while the bill was expected to sail through the legislature, things didn't work out as expected. 

In March, the bill was granted a hearing in Arizona's state legislature, where students were invited to testify on its behalf before a state senate committee. But after both the committee and the full Senate unanimously passed the bill, the legislature and the school district began to wonder whether all this publicity about drugs in their schools was good for the community. “Drug use may not be something school officials want widely publicized,” the Arizona Republic politely put it. A provocative student YouTube video calling on Anthem's citizens to “speak the truth” about drug use in Arizona simply added to the uproar.

“It’s not that we want to bury our heads in the sand,” insisted Boulder Creek's beleaguered principal, Lauren Sheahan. “But we also don’t want to create unnecessary drama.” Meanwhile, the bill was dying a slow death in the House Education Committee, where the chairperson finally killed it over concerns about applying a single standard to all of the state’s school districts. “Maybe they’re learning more than they thought they would,” John Kriekard, superintendent of the school district, said of the students involved. Kendal Brownsberger, a 17-year-old junior who helped write the bill agrees. “I’ve learned about adults and how drama doesn’t stop after high school,” she told the Arizona Republic. “I’ve learned that government is a long process…and at times it can be kind of twisted.”

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]