Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced his intention to aggressively pursue and increase the federal government’s civil asset forfeiture known as the “Equitable Sharing Program.“
The U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has just promised to increase the federal government’s civil asset forfeiture programs. In an address at the National District Attorney’s Association conference in Minneapolis, MN this week, Sessions laid out his prosecutorial plans for the nation.
The gathering of district attorneys from all across the nation to meet with America’s top law enforcement official was revealing, to say the least. Sessions addressed many legitimate and pressing issues facing the nation; opioid epidemic, increasing murder rate, and human trafficking. But Sessions’ comments on planned confiscation of possessions of private citizens has many taking notice.
In addition, we hope to issue this week a new directive on asset forfeiture—especially for drug traffickers. With care and professionalism, we plan to develop policies to increase forfeitures. No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime. Adoptive forfeitures are appropriate as is sharing with our partners.
Sessions has long-since considered marijuana a drug and not a plant, and his comment specifying “drug traffickers” as his primary target, has many in the medical marijuana (MMJ) industry more than a bit nervous. The DEA still classifies cannabis as a Schedule I narcotic even though 29 U.S. states have defied the DEA’s definition as well as federal law and enacted MMJ laws allowing for cannabis to be used as medicine and in a few states, recreationally.
Now, it seems, Sessions wants to not only increase seizures of property by federal agents belonging to citizens of subordinate states but he may be able to legally transpose the broad definition of “criminal” to include dispensary owners, growers, and distributors alike in states where weed is already legal. After all, each actor involved is breaking federal law with every plant cultivated or sold.
In June, 62 people were arrested for trafficking marijuana in Colorado, a state where not only is marijuana offered through the state’s medical marijuana board, but is also available for recreational uses. Several of those arrested were licensed members of the state’s program.
One operation, known as “Toker Poker,” targeted unlicensed marijuana growers and distributors who allegedly sold weed across state lines into surrounding states. According to the Denver Post:
The indictment, filed June 9, resulted in the seizure of nearly 2,500 illegally cultivated marijuana plants and 4,000 pounds of marijuana.
But what started out as a targeted investigation of growers and distributors quickly morphed into in related businesses, including at least one supply store.
A dozen businesses operated by the ring, including a marijuana grow supply store and purported property management companies, are also named in the indictment.
Members did not get licensing needed to grow and sell legally in Colorado, and then they sold the marijuana in states where pot is illegal, including Texas, Kansas, Nebraska and Ohio, the indictment said.
With the Attorney General’s new directive to increase civil asset forfeiture operations at the federal level, some states are prepared to push back.
In Colorado, HB17-1313 recently became the newest law concerning civil asset forfeitures. Amid a torrent of protest by sheriffs all across the state, lawmakers wrote into law new legislation requiring all state-level law enforcement agencies to forego receipt of federally seized liquid assets unless the amount of money seized exceeded $50,000.
Here’s how it works according to Reason:
The Justice Department plays a huge role in asset forfeiture through its Equitable Sharing Program, which allows state and local police to have their forfeiture cases “adopted” by the federal government. The feds take over the case, and the seized money is put into the equitable sharing pool. In return, the department gets up to 80 percent of those funds back. The equitable sharing program distributes hundreds of millions of dollars a year to police departments around the country.
Seizures of property and goods, including cash, happen so frequently that LEAs’ civil asset forfeiture programs are becoming highly controversial.
For example, in Cook County, Illinois, for the past several years, police have seized property and cash an average of 5,000 times per year. That’s a total of over 25,000 seizures in the past five ears alone.
Many, if not all of the people who lost their property were not yet proven guilty in a court of law, and just as many never went to court before the assets were taken. In other words, police are taking innocent people’s property at will, requiring defendants to expend additional resources (money) to recover their goods.
Many believe civil asset forfeitures programs and operations are a form of legal theft. Now, it seems, even Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions wants in on the game and is putting all his drug war chips on the table.