There are numerous reasons why a high school hallway might smell like weed, but there is no reason for singling out one particular black girl with no evidence and suspending her under a school regulation that does not exist. And yet that is exactly what allegedly happened this week to Jakayla Johnson as she was sitting in her Chinese language class, learning – isn’t that what you’re supposed to do at school? Johnson attends a Wake County school in Garner, North Carolina (a state that has already been in the news recently for its lack of tolerance for transgender bathroom use).
2016 Marijuana Laws in North Carolina
North Carolina’s laws state that marijuana is a Schedule VI substance, and possession of .5 ounces or less is a Class 3 misdemeanor with a maximum $200 fine – there is no imprisonment allowed for this amount. Possession of .5 to 1.5 ounces of marijuana is a Class 1 misdemeanor with a maximum of $1000 fine and 45 days in prison. Possession of over 1.5 ounces is a Class 1 felony carrying 3-8 months of imprisonment. Cultivation is illegal in North Carolina, as is possession of hashish or oils. First time misdemeanor marijuana proceedings may be suspended, and an “offender” (such as her school says Jakayla is) will be placed on probation with drug education – upon completion, all charges must be dismissed.
Jakayla Johnson’s Story
Jakayla Johnson is a typical sophomore at Garner Magnet High School in North Carolina, a school that has 62% minority students according to U.S News.com. CBS North Carolina reported that Jakayla was singled out of her class after school officers “smelled marijuana from the hall” of the school. They went into Jakayla’s classroom and searched the classroom for five minutes, then asked Jakayla to “spread” her fingers while they smelled them. Then, with no evidence other than the “scent” of marijuana on Jakayla’s hands, an officer took Jakayla to the school’s office, patted her down, searched her shoes and book bag, and “explained to Jakayla that for her hands to smell so pungently of marijuana she would have to have possessed it in her hands at some recent point in time.” Although there is no regulation at Garner Magnet for “smelling like marijuana,” the student handbook states that “administrators can use their best judgment to determine if they believe a student is in possession of drugs.”
Jakayla’s Punishment for “Smelling Like Marijuana”
Jakayla was suspended for “possession” of marijuana even though they could not prove she possessed it simply because “there was no other option to check” on the suspension document. Under these rules, anyone could be suspended from Garner Magnet and charged falsely with crimes or misdemeanors they did not commit. This is a very dangerous precedent to set, and it could affect Jakayla and other students like for the rest of their lives – not to mention the mental damage done to a student who previously expected to be treated fairly by her school. Regardless of personal rights, false accusations that would never hold up in a court of law, and little or no thought to the effect these breezy proceedings would have on Jakayla’s life, she was suspended for five days (missing three tests and a lot of homework) and ordered to take drug education classes or be suspended for the entire year.
Jakayla’s Fight against Unfair Persecution
It is clear that Jakayla’s suspension and the treatment doled out by Garner Magnet school’s officer and administration are not based in law, and are arbitrary. Tameka Johnson, Jakayla’s mother, immediately realized this and took her daughter to a medical lab the day of her suspension. Not only was the matter handled extremely insensitively by the school, with Jakayla being singled out in front of her whole class seemingly at random – but Tameka was positive that her daughter was not at fault. The medical lab returned a negative test result for marijuana, which Tameka Johnson took to Garner Magnet school officials, asking for the removal of Jakayla’s suspension and an apology for the manner in which her daughter was treated.
No Evidence for Jakayla
Apparently, Garner Magnet school officials don’t have to bother with the burden of proof, and can suspend a student based on their olfactory senses alone. Tameka Johnson was appalled that her daughter had been accused of possession when in fact there was no proof whatsoever that she had been in contact with marijuana, much less consumed it. School officials admitted as much when they stated that they had checked possession because there was not an option for “smelling” like marijuana. Wake County schools declined to comment on Jakayla’s suspension, and insisted that they cannot remove the suspension without an official appeal to the school board. Suspending and punishing Jakayla without evidence is just plain wrong. Jakayla’s mother stated that she is afraid other students are being persecuted in this way and are unable to stand up for their personal rights.