No Room For Mistakes

Honor Student Caught Dealing Ecstasy

Ari Jackson's future should have been as bright as he is. "I have a 3.7 GPA and I'm in the top one percent of my institution."

He's a college junior and honor student in Tallahassee, Fla.Last year, when this story was first broadcast, Jackson was mentoring young children because he grew up without a father.

To his supervisor, Donna Callaway, he seemed to be doing everything right: "He's the kind of person we want. He still has his idealism, this caring, almost missionary spirit."

But he's allegedly just done something wrong, something against the law. Jackson was busted for dealing ecstasy. Correspondent Harold Dow reports on the tough battle Jackson facced against strict new drug laws.

"Within one evening, all that can be thrown away."

He was caught with 50 ecstasy pills.

"I was - I was doing a friend a favor, it wasn't - it wasn't like we were making a huge drug deal to - to make a large profit," explained Jackson. "It wasn't a huge, huge deal."

But Florida's tough law makes 50 pills a very big deal. Possession of that amount of ecstasy could warrant as much as three years behind bars.

Jim McDonough, Florida's drug czar, says the punishment fits the crime. "It's dangerous stuff; it kills people," said McDonough. "And therefore if you deal in these drugs, you sell these drugs, you're putting other people at risk."

Since 1997, eight people in Florida have died from pure ecstasy but that's a tiny fraction of all drug deaths.

Gary Roberts, Jackson's attorney, thinks the government has exaggerated the problem - and the punishments. "It's effective in getting certain people off the street. But the question is what does it do to them?" asked Roberts. "Most of them become more bitter and more hardened."

Jackson echoes his lawyer's sentiments: "I was in possession of some pills. I mean, come on, there's got to be a better way to teach the lesson than to ruin someone's life."

Lt. Mike Wood was the officer who arrested Jackson. He sees the dilemma in the severe punishments for even first-time offenders of the tough laws concerning ecstasy "They have bright futures," said Wood. "On the flip side of are dying as a result of taking these narcotics."

For Jackson, the worse punishment may be the fact that he failed those who believed in him. "(People) that have helped me and mentored me and guided me along the way, hoping that I'm going to have a bright future, that was the worst, that was the worst of all. Knowing that - that I've let them down."

Weeks ago, Jackson appeared in court on charges of trafficking in ecstasy and, although he did cooperate with police, he still may face at least three years in jail.

Ecstasy: Main Page