Drug Policy

Flour Powder

|

In 2003, Bryn Mawr college student Janet H. Lee was arrested in a Philadelphia airport for drug smuggling. Airport officials found several condoms that Lee had stuffed with flour for use as stress-busters during finals week. When two "field tests" showed the flour to be opium and/or cocaine, Lee was arrested, and held in prison for 21 days until lab tests later confirmed her story.

The good news is that Lee has won a $180,000 settlement for her wrongful imprisonment.

The bad news is, the settlement means we'll probably never know how or why two "field tests" would have ordinary household flour come back positive for opium and cocaine.

It isn't the first time these "field tests" conducted by police have turned up repeated false positives, leading to false arrests and wrongful imprisonment.

NEXT: Van Halen: A Secret Influence Finally Gets its Due

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. These ‘field tests’ have been a problem since at least 1981. When I was a college freshman, a classmate living on my dorm floor received a care package from her mother, containing, among other things, a broken glass jar of Constant Comment tea. Dorm officials noticed the leaves in the mail room and turned her in. The police tested the leaves and, Ta Da!! found marijuana. Luckily her roomate’s parents were local attorneys, who took the case as a favor, and ran some tests for other things using that machine. Other things that tested positive for mj? shredded paper, hair brush dregs, lawn clippings, and, my favorite, fish scales. The case was dropped.

  2. What did she do with the flour stuffed condoms to “bust stress” ?
    I’ve heard of scotch taped bubble wrap in condoms
    -never flour. Would these be illegal in Alabama?

  3. all the police had to do was rub some of the stuff on their gums to see if it was coke or not — heh — seriously its more accurate than any chemcial reagents that say flour is coke…

  4. I’d be willing to bet that these asshats doing the tests don’t have any clue how to properly clean a machine between uses, and thusly they machines build up residue that contaminates tests and causes errors. Clowns.

  5. Is it Idiot Day on Hit & Run? First the woman who keeps her “Thank you for your donation to overthrow the Burmese government” letters, and now some coed who thought it was a good idea to take her homemade powder-filled condoms to the airport.

    Coming soon: the interrupted journey of the sculptor who carves realistic, full-scale models of handguns out of wood….

    And “opium and/or cocaine”? That’s some precision test they’ve got there. It’s like testing a liquid and saying it’s “beer and/or wine.”

  6. So…the “good news” is that if you live in Philadelphia your tax money is going to Ms. Lee because the local police are morons? Great, just great. It’s not like the folks who fucked up are going to pay for this. They’ll keep their jobs, benefits and retirement pensions and screw you civilian punks.

  7. That is so not the best way to use condoms to relieve stress.

    The other ways are harder to do on an airplane, though.

  8. This brings up the question, how can I get myself wrongfully imprisoned by the federal government in exchange for a hefty settlement. 180K for 21 days doesn’t seem like a bad deal.

  9. Oh, and since she was a student at Bryn Mawr, I don’t think you can call her a co-ed. I guess she’s just an ed.

  10. whatever. at least she’s not a coke-head.

  11. “180K for 21 days doesn’t seem like a bad deal.”

    Screw that. I’m not spending 3 weeks in jail for 180k. She deserves every penny and more.

  12. And in the end, dropping 180K on a college student greatly increases the chances that she’ll be trying that now affordable and at the forefront of her mind…Cocaine…

  13. I’d be willing to bet that these asshats doing the tests don’t have any clue how to properly clean a machine between uses, and thusly they machines build up residue that contaminates tests and causes errors. Clowns.

    I’d bet that so long as the machine produces the answers police want, they’d have no interest in maintenance.

  14. That reminds of time when an old girlfriend’s mom actually did smuggle some hashish filled condoms into the country on a trip back from India. Needless to say, you can guess where she stored the condoms during the flight! Anyway that shit lasted for months, it was awesome.

    So there is my little shout out to Ms. S. for seriously taking one for the team.

  15. As far as false positives go, I wonder about the zip-loc bags of catnip that seem to come with every cat toy we buy. I must have 30 of them at this point. The baggies themselves probably qualify as paraphernalia.

    All it would take is for one crackhead informant to point the the wrong condo.

  16. As many of you no doubt know, law enforcement officials aren’t actually so swell at identifying contraband. At a nearby school in MD a few years back, I recall the local rag reporting that Deputies took possesion of the “hashish” in the form of a “white powder”. Now, I realize that it’s likely that many if not most police officers have not used illegal drugs but don’t they have some book with pictures to which they could refer?

    I don’t know exactly what they finally determined the suspicious white powder to be but it’s a safe be that tit wasn’t hash,

  17. This story sounds offly suspicious. ie, maybe this was a test run before smuggling real coke.

  18. “This story sounds offly suspicious. ie, maybe this was a test run before smuggling real coke.”

    Who cares? I assume she was deliberately antagonizing the airport cops with what appeared to be an easy drug bust. That takes nothing away from the fact that their “tests” were 100% wrong. Your suspicion is irrelevant.

  19. “Needless to say, you can guess where she stored the condoms during the flight!”

    In the overhead compartment or under the seat in front of her?

    heh2k – and that’s reason enough to arrest someone? Because you think it’s a dry run? Then you’re in the position of proving a negative: prove it wasn’t a dry run, etc.

  20. She deserves every penny and more.

    Agreed?mostly.

    Knowing nothing about her situation other than the article, the fact that she has an upcoming civil rights case and the fact that it has taken her three years to “heal herself psychologically”, the “comparative literature major” sounds a bit like a delicate doily.

  21. “the “comparative literature major” sounds a bit like a delicate doily.”

    um – we’re talkin’ comp lit here. For them a tough battle is whether Shakespeare wrote “sullied” or “soiled”… or if “Winner and Waster” was excessive or if it deliberately was left unfinished…

    🙂

    (Of course, if she had a tough-guy military lawyer, she’d’a gotten off sans problem)

  22. Sometimes I wonder if stuff like this indicates that the “test” will always return positive – the idea being that if somebody is guilty of drug possession for real and a test shows positive they’ll assume they’re dead meat and go ahead and confess. The police probably assumed, as I admit that I would, that a condom filled with white powder is most likely contraband. Has anybody else ever heard of this sort of homemade “stress buster”?

  23. just a few days ago, Miami had a scare because detectors turned up C-4 plastic explosive in a shipping crate (I can’t remember whether it was the airport or the ship port). guess what? the crate contained ordinary (not made of C-4) lawn sprinker parts. I feel safer already, knowing that our top-notch law enforcement officials can’t distinguish between regular plastic and C-4, or cocaine and flour. jackasses.

  24. What did she do with the flour stuffed condoms to “bust stress” ?

    R…T…F…A…

    “As part of an exam ritual in her dorm, Lee had filled the condoms with flour to make a phallic toy that freshmen squeezed to reduce stress. She had found it so funny that she had packed them to take home to California to show friends after exams.”

  25. PapayaSF | January 9, 2007, 1:06am | #

    Is it Idiot Day on Hit & Run? First the woman who keeps her “Thank you for your donation to overthrow the Burmese government” letters, and now some coed who thought it was a good idea to take her homemade powder-filled condoms to the airport.

    Coming soon: the interrupted journey of the sculptor who carves realistic, full-scale models of handguns out of wood….

    And “opium and/or cocaine”? That’s some precision test they’ve got there. It’s like testing a liquid and saying it’s “beer and/or wine.”

    not really. at least beer and wine have the same intoxicant as an ingredient. It would be more like testing some plant material and saying “it’s marijuana and/or tobacco”

  26. And “opium and/or cocaine”? That’s some precision test they’ve got there. It’s like testing a liquid and saying it’s “beer and/or wine.”

    not really. at least beer and wine have the same intoxicant as an ingredient. It would be more like testing some plant material and saying “it’s marijuana and/or tobacco”

    Or chocolate milk and/or kerosene.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.