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Congressman Ted Lieu

Representing the 33rd District of California

Orange County Register: Stop the feds’ lawless asset forfeiture scam

January 31, 2018
In The News

Congressmen Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, and Justin Amash, R-Mich., have reintroduced legislation to block the use of civil asset forfeiture funds to support the Drug Enforcement Agency’s marijuana eradication program.

The Stop Civil Asset Forfeiture Funding for Marijuana Suppression Act is a laudable proposal to limit the federal government’s capacity to ramp up enforcement of what should be dealt with at the state level while also calling attention to the problem of civil asset forfeiture.

Civil asset forfeiture is the practice whereby the government can seize a person’s proper out of mere suspicion the property was somehow connected to criminal activity. Neither a criminal conviction nor the filing of criminal charges is needed to justify seizures.

The practice, which in modern contexts has mostly been tied to the war on drugs, has been used by the government to seize billions of dollars in cash and property from Americans, often in small amounts and from poor communities.

According to a report released last year by the Justice Department’s inspector general, the DEA alone has seized over $3 billion through administrative processes since 2007.

Given the considerable lack of due process rights afforded to targets of the practice, and the potential to incentive law enforcement to direct greater attention toward revenue generation and away from optimal crime prevention efforts, the practice should either be prohibited or extensively reformed to enhance due process rights and oversight.

Absent that, the proposal by Amash and Lieu rightly cuts off the harmful cycle perpetuated by agencies in which a constitutionally suspect practice is used to finance the constitutionally suspect aim of cracking down on marijuana.

“The DEA’s use of proceeds acquired through civil asset forfeiture to expand marijuana enforcement — a state-level issue —  makes the already unacceptable practice even worse,” said Amash in a statement.

This is especially true given the clear national trend in support of marijuana legalization and away from the outdated, ineffective prohibitionist policies that have been proven not to work for the past century.

The proposal by Amash and Lieu is just one step Congress should take in correcting the flawed priorities of the federal government with respect to marijuana and civil asset forfeiture.

Fundamentally, the states should be the entities responsible for deciding how to deal with marijuana, not the federal government. While the Controlled Substances Act should probably be done away with entirely, Congress should at least pass legislation removing marijuana from the CSA in order to allow the states to regulate marijuana as they see fit.

With respect to civil asset forfeiture, the Congress should either end it or reform it. One bill to do the latter is the FAIR Act, which among other things would remove the financial incentives for federal agencies to engage in forfeitures by directing the proceeds away from the agencies. Unless Congress wants to continue wasting time and money and infringing on the rights of the people, ending federal marijuana prohibition and reining in the excesses of asset forfeiture are the least they should do.