How Drug-Free School Zones Backfired

A policy that seemed like common sense yielded perverse consequences.

In 1970 a new trend in narcotics law began to spread: Legislators began creating Drug Free School Zones, imposing harsh penalties on drug crimes committed within them. The theory behind these zones was straightforward: kids are the last people we want drug dealers to target; schoolyards are the last place we want them plying their violent trade; so why not create an incentive to keep drugs elsewhere? “Drug-free zones around schools offer communities one way to give students a place where they can play and talk without being threatened by drug dealers and drug users,” one sheriff’s department declares on its webpage.

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