This film is an expose of the war on drugs, and the way federal grants are awarded to local law enforcement based on the number of drug arrests reported. In turn, these police departments prey on some of the most vulnerable members of their communities to keep their number up and the money flowing in.
In an undercover sting called “Operation Glass House” police officers infiltrated three Temecula, California high schools, where they attempted to build friendships with students and purchase drugs from them. Not exactly known for its drug scene, Temecula is mentioned to be the second safest city in America. Deputy Daniel Zipperstein, operating undercover as teenager Daniel Briggs, was assigned to Chaparral High School, where he befriended Jesse Snodgrass. Daniel frequently asked Jesse to hook him up with pot, and eventually, Jesse obliged. He bought a miniscule amount of weed from a homeless man and it gave it to his would-be friend. He would later be charged with two felony counts of selling marijuana.
Neither the Temecula School District nor the Temecula PD responded to invitations to be interviewed. Jesse also declined to appear on camera due to the post-traumatic stress he has suffered since his arrest; His parents Doug and Catherine, however, share his story to illustrate the way the war on drugs took advantage of their son, a teenager with Asperger’s syndrome.
In emotional interviews, Doug and Catherine emphasize the desperation Jesse felt in wanting to keep his only friend and trace his history of growing up as a child on the autistic spectrum. Even at an early age, Jesse struggled to build and maintain friendships. They believe his only intent in obliging Daniel’s request for marijuana was to keep him as a friend, a demonstration of empathy and connection that his parents explain would be considered a breakthrough for a person with Asperger’s under other circumstances.
In addition to interviews with Jesse’s parents and two other students arrested under Operation Glass House, the audience is given the history of these undercover operations, which the LAPD launched in 1974. While the LAPD ultimately ceased this practice when evidence revealed they were heavily targeting students who were poor, minorities, or special needs and with little results in stemming the area drug trade, other counties continue these operations regardless.
The subjects in this film decry the war on drugs as a failure based on their first-hand experiences, claiming more lives have been ruined than saved. Despite the indication of a larger societal progression towards legalizing marijuana, law enforcement still engages in the war on drugs, a battle that, as the title implies, is proving to be a war on kids.