Are Pot Users Criminals? The Tragic Case of Rachel Hoffman

Rachel had to choose between going to prison or working as an informant.

ByABC News
July 24, 2008, 1:32 PM

July 24, 2008— -- After being caught twice with a "baggie" of marijuana, 23-year old Rachel Hoffman was reportedly told by police in Tallahassee, Florida that she would go to prison for four years unless she became an undercover informant.

The young woman, a recent graduate of Florida State University, was murdered during a botched sting operation two months ago.

Her case will be profiled Friday on 20/20.

"The idea of waging a war on drugs is to protect people and here it seems like we're putting people in harm's way," said Lance Block, a lawyer hired by Rachel's parents.

The Florida Attorney General's office says it is reviewing the procedures and protocol of the Tallahassee police.

Rachel's case also has raised new questions about state and federal laws related to marijuana possession.

"I'm calling her a criminal," Tallahassee police chief Dennis Jones told 20/20, who maintains that both drug dealers and drug users are considered criminals to his department.

Under Florida law, possession of more than 20 grams of marijuana is a felony.

Rachel was also found in possession of two ecstasy pills, a felony under Florida law no matter the quantity because it "has a high potential for abuse and has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States."

The Tallahassee police chief says Rachel was suspected of selling drugs and she was rightly treated as a criminal.

"That's my job as a police chief to find these criminals in our community and take them off the street, to make the proper arrests," Jones told 20/20.

Rachel's case also is raising questions about how police recruit and use informants in undercover operations.

"There need to be some safeguards here," said Block, the Hoffman family lawyer.

The young woman received no training before being sent to an undercover meeting to buy a large amount of drugs and a handgun from two suspects.

Police says Rachel was killed by the very handgun she was supposed to buy.

"I don't think she understood the risk or danger that she was in," said Block.