Drug Policy

Drug Czar Wants More Money to Spend on Taking Your Stuff

ONDCP requests record amount to "manage the massive paper flow associated with forfeiture."


The Washington Post reports that the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) wants more money "to identify assets, prosecute cases and 'manage the massive paper flow associated with forfeiture.'"

Asset-forfeiture, in which law enforcement seizes property, cash, and goods that it says is connected to drug crimes and activity, is controversial but incredibly lucrative.

Last year, for instance, cops took more stuff from people than criminals did. And, as Steven Greenhut wrote here, many of the instances are outrageous:

One Anaheim couple almost lost a $1.5 million commercial building after an undercover cop bought $37 in marijuana from a tenant, but the feds dropped that case after bad publicity.

Created in the early days of the nation's war on drugs, asset forfeiture was designed to grab the proceeds from drug kingpins. But most of the money now is grabbed from ordinary citizens. According to a study last year, about 80 percent of the time, seized property is taken from people who have never been charged with anything.

Now the drug czar's office (as ONDCP is popularly known) wants to ramp up efforts even more. From the Post:

Despite calls for reform from lawmakers and advocacy groups, budget numbers recently released by the Office of National Drug Control Policy suggest forfeiture efforts will ramp up next year.

Wash Post

For fiscal year 2016, the Department of Justice has requested $297.2 million in funding to support the asset forfeiture activities of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces. That's a $14 million increase over the previous year, and a 164 percent increase in drug-related asset forfeiture spending since 2008.

By contrast, the overall federal drug control budget has increased by only about 25 percent over the same period.

Police departments not only get to keep a large amount of the value of what they seize but have come to depend on that extra revenue stream. Explains Grant Smith of the Drug Policy Alliance to the Post:

"Forfeiture activity across the country has exploded since 2000 in large part due to the growing reliance by law enforcement on the use of civil asset forfeiture to bring a cash windfall to police budgets."

Read the whole piece here.

Last year, Reason TV talked with economist Bart Wilson, who studies how bad incentives push cops to take more stuff, especially via asset forfeiture: