New Bill Strikes At The Heart Of DEA’s Civil Asset Forfeiture Apparatus

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu and GOP Rep. Justin Amash just teamed up Wednesday to introduce a bill into the House with the goal of eliminating the Drug Enforcement Administration’s controversial marijuana enforcement program.

The DEA uses the Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program to fund law enforcement agencies across the country, with the caveat that the money is earmarked for destroying cannabis cultivation sites. What Lieu and Amash’s bill does is block any federal funds from being sent to federal, state, or local law enforcement for the purpose of the program—or any similar program relating to marijuana.

Currently, the DEA’s marijuana program, which was founded in 1979 to target operations in Hawaii and California, is the only nationwide program to exclusively focus on drug trafficking organizations dealing in cannabis. The DEA succeeded in bringing all 50 states under the program’s umbrella by 1985.

Not only does the program seize and destroy marijuana, but it also takes any property or assets related to cultivation. According to DEA data, the program brought in approximately $32.8 million a year on average from 2010 to 2014 via civil asset forfeiture. Seizures are not evenly distributed across the country. Instead, California took first place, accounting for a third of all seizures.

That the program has a distinctive civil asset forfeiture bent is just one of the reasons why Amash wants to put a stop to it.

“Civil asset forfeiture allows innocent people to have their property taken without sufficient due process, and this program encourages civil asset forfeiture by allowing the DEA to use the proceeds of seized property to fund marijuana prohibition enforcement,” Amash said in a statement. “This is especially troubling given that the federal government should not be expending resources on marijuana prohibition—enforcement is a state-level issue, and an increasing number of states are deciding to back off from prohibition.” 

Previously, the program has also been criticized for confusing marijuana with feral hemp. Out of 223 domestic marijuana plants destroyed by law enforcement in 2005, about 219 million were counted as ditchweed, which upon testing, shows almost no presence of THC at all.

“The solution to marijuana being grown on public lands is to tax and regulate it like alcohol,” Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. “There’s a reason we don’t see headlines about cartels growing illicit fields of hops and barley or grapes in our national parks. Under prohibition, drug cartels and criminals control the trade, and they don’t obey the law. Law abiding, licensed businesses do. Marijuana is safer than alcohol and should be treated that way.”

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