Drug War

Bill Introduced to Stop Civil Forfeiture Funding of DEA Marijuana Eradication Program

"DEA's use of proceeds acquired through civil asset forfeiture to expand marijuana enforcement makes the already unacceptable practice even worse."

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Randall Benton/TNS/Newscom

Citing waste of taxpayer dollars, shifting public opinion, and constitutional concerns, Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Justin Amash (R-Mich.) have introduced a bill in Congress that would block funds from the federal government's controversial asset forfeiture fund from being used for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) marijuana eradication program.

The Stop Civil Asset Forfeiture Funding for Marijuana Suppression Act, first introduced in 2015, would use Congress' power of the purse to block money from the Justice Department's Asset Forfeiture Fund from being used to support the DEA's Domestic Cannabis Suppression/Eradication Program.

According to the DEA, the program was responsible in 2016 for the eradication of more than 5 million marijuana plants, more than 5,000 arrests, and the seizure of more than of $51 million from marijuana cultivators.

Under civil asset forfeiture laws, police can seize property and money suspected of being connected to criminal activity, even if the owner is not charged with a crime. Law enforcement groups argue it is a vital tool to disrupt drug trafficking and other organized crime. However, civil liberties advocates say there are far too few protections for innocent property owners and far too many profit incentives police and prosecutors.

For example, in 2009 federal prosecutors unsuccessfully fought to seize a farm from an Alabama woman after her husband was caught growing marijuana on the property. Her husband, who said he used the marijuana to manage chronic pain, committed suicide during his trial in a last-ditch attempt to keep the farm in family hands, as it had been for generations. His wife was never charged with a crime.

"Civil asset forfeiture is an unconstitutional practice whereby the government takes people's property without due process," Amash, one of the more libertarian members of Congress, said in a joint statement with Lieu. "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."

Lieu called the DEA eradication program "a waste of time and money and runs contrary to the will of the people."

"The Federal Government has a responsibility to spend taxpayer money wisely," he said. "Instead, A.G. Jeff Sessions would rather waste federal dollars by attacking marijuana, which has been legalized either for medical or recreational use in the majority of states in the U.S."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime supporter of the drug war, recently rescinded Obama-era guidance to U.S Attorneys on marijuana enforcement, sparking fears of a federal crackdown on the drug, which is now legal at the state level for recreational use in eight states and the District of Columbia.

A new poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling and Strategy and released by Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), an anti-legalization group, found that only 16 percent of Americans support keeping the current federal policy on marijuana, while 49 percent favor full legalization for recreational use.

The bill also has the support of marijuana legalization groups.

"Never in modern history has there existed greater public support for ending the nation's nearly century-long experiment with marijuana prohibition," Justin Strekal, the political director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said in a statement. "With eight states and the District of Columbia now having legalized its personal use and 30 states having legalized medical marijuana, it is time that the DEA cease interfering with state-legal programs and stop wasting taxpayer dollars that would be better directed at going after the pill-mills contributing to the nations opioid crisis."