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Pot Smoker “Forgotten” by DEA wins $4.1m

A college student whose bloody, urine-drinking ordeal at the hands of the Drug Enforcement Agency became a national scandal has scored a multimillion dollar settlement from the federal government without even filing a lawsuit.

Daniel Chong, a student at UC San Diego, was detained by agents from the DEA following a party in April 2012 at which he admitted to smoking some pot, nothing more. The agents raided the house where he was sleeping on a couch, found some ecstasy and guns – to which Chong was never tied – and dragged everyone there into DEA offices for interviews.

Chong answered their questions, and they agreed to let him go without charges. But they then locked him in a temporary holding cell and, according to the official story, forgot about him for the next four days.

During that time, Chong was handcuffed without access to food, water or a toilet. He drank his own urine to survive, shattered the lenses of his glasses with his teeth and used the jagged edges to carve “sorry, mom” into his arm. He swallowed the glass in an attempt to kill himself.

Screaming and kicks on the door went unanswered and Chong nearly died.

The incident highlights the DEA’s typical poor treatment of common marijuana users. Chong smoked pot, and went to his friends’ house on April 20, but he didn’t carry guns and had nothing to do with the black market.

“This was 4/20, what some pot-smokers consider a holy day,” said Julia Yoo, Chong’s lawyer. “It’s true Daniel was there to smoke pot with some friends of his, but he had nothing to do with any drug distribution or distribution ring.”

After the incident, the DEA special agent in charge of the San Diego office released a statement: “I am deeply troubled by the incident that occurred here. I extend my deepest apologies to the young man and want to express that this event is not indicative of the high standards that I hold my employees to.”

A formal public apology from a federal agency is a very rare occurrence. But there have been no indications that anyone at the DEA was ever fired or disciplined over what happened.

Chong originally considered suing for $20 million, saying he had been through one of “the worst traumas anybody could ever go through.” But he and the government settled on $4.1 million without any court filings.

It remains unclear exactly why Chong was handcuffed or put in a holding cell once agents told him he wouldn’t be charged.

About Matt Brooks

Based in San Francisco, Matt is a journalist who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than five years. He provides regular news coverage on marijuanaandthelaw.com and californiamarijuanamarket.com.

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