Earlier today, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that local and state law enforcement would no longer be able to use federal asset forfeiture laws to seize and keep property without evidence of a crime.
According to the Washington Post:
Holder’s action represents the most sweeping check on police power to confiscate personal property since the seizures began three decades ago as part of the war on drugs.
Since 2008, thousands of local and state police agencies have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion under a civil asset forfeiture program at the Justice Department called Equitable Sharing.
The program has enabled local and state police to make seizures and then have them “adopted” by federal agencies, which share in the proceeds. The program allowed police departments and drug task forces to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds of the adopted seizures, with the rest going to federal agencies.
While police can continue to make seizures under their own state laws, the federal program was easy to use and required most of the proceeds from the seizures to go to local and state police departments. Many states require seized proceeds to go into the general fund.
A Justice official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the attorney general’s motivation, said Holder “also believes that the new policy will eliminate any possibility that the adoption process might unintentionally incentivize unnecessary stops and seizures.”
The old policy allowed law enforcement to take and keep people's cash and property on the pretense of things like the scent of marijuana, even if none is found in their possession. Since the proceeds go directly to local police budgets, some argue that this was one of the primary reasons for law enforcement's continued opposition to marijuana policy reform.
A Michigan man came forward this week with his story of police abuse, and unfortunately, it sounds all too familiar.
According to Rudy Simpson, police raided his home for marijuana based on an anonymous tip and a marijuana stem supposedly found in his garbage. The police found a quarter ounce of marijuana, 12 alleged marijuana seeds, and half of a pill for which Simpson produced a prescription.
Apparently, this was all the justification the police needed to confiscate three pages worth of Simpson’s personal property under Michigan’s asset forfeiture laws, including musical equipment, televisions, DVDs, computers, and other electronics. State law allows authorities to confiscate any materials paid for with profits from drug sales, based only on probable cause. No evidence was ever produced to link Simpson to any marijuana sales, yet his property was seized anyway. According to Simpson, the officers acted like “thugs,” eating food out of his refrigerator and trashing his home during the raid.
Unfortunately for the cops, they raided the home during a band rehearsal, and were unaware that the entire incident was being recorded. This included the police testing their vocal skills on the mic, then openly talking about which of Simpson’s belongings they and their team leader wanted to take! (Follow the first link of this post to listen.)
It turns out this particular unit made quite a bit of money by confiscating big-ticket items during routine, low-level drug busts, either keeping the items or reselling them illegally. The head of the unit, Luke Davis, is currently under indictment for corruption.
This is just another sad example of one of the more insane aspects of the war on marijuana users. Thousands of people have had their homes and belongings stolen by law enforcement, without due process, never to be returned. Some of these people were never even officially charged with a crime or were found not guilty of the charges, but in most cases, the police still sold the property and kept the proceeds!
We live in a great nation. We also live in a nation where the people who are supposed to protect you can kick your door down, terrorize your family, shoot your dog, and take your land and property — all because they think you have some plant matter that is safer to use than alcohol. And there isn’t much you can do about it.
This is why all Americans need to support ending marijuana prohibition: It is simply un-American.