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New Federal Asset Forfeiture Changes Will Impact Marijuana Enforcement


marijuana asset forfeitureAsset forfeiture has been a major issue in the marijuana world. I have had many friends have run ins with law enforcement, just to see all of their money and some of their assets taken even though charges were never filed. Marijuana supporters have pushed for asset forfeiture reform for a long time, and I’m happy to say that today there was some significant movement at the federal level. Of course, state laws still allow for asset forfeiture, but this move is still significant and will no doubt have an impact on unfair marijuana enforcement. Below are press releases about today’s change in federal policy, courtesy of the Drug Policy Alliance (linked) and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (sent to me via e-mail):

Today, Attorney General Eric Holder issued an order establishing a new policy prohibiting federal agencies from accepting civil asset forfeiture assets seized by state and local law enforcement agencies unless the owner is convicted of a crime. The U.S. Treasury Department, which has its own forfeiture program, is issuing a similar policy.  The Department of Justice becomes involved after a state or local law enforcement agency seizes property pursuant to state law and requests that a federal agency take the seized asset and forfeit it under federal law.

For years, advocates have criticized the Department of Justice practice of accepting and processing seized assets such as cash, cars and other property from state and local law enforcement agencies through its Equitable Sharing Program, which retains 20 percent of the proceeds from the seizure received from a state or local law enforcement agency and returns 80 percent of the proceeds to the state or local law enforcement agency that initiated the seizure. The practice has enabled some state and local law enforcement to bypass state laws that prohibit police departments from keeping the proceeds from civil asset forfeiture or impose a stricter legal standard for seizing property.  The Washington Post has recently documented widespread abuse of this practice, usually as part of carrying out the war on drugs.

Bipartisan support for civil asset forfeiture reform is growing in Congress. Last week, key congressional leaders including Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-IA) and Mike Lee (R-UT), signed a letter calling on Holder to end the Equitable Sharing program that was the subject of the policy change today.  Sen. Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has oversight over the Equitable Sharing Program, has named civil asset forfeiture as one of his top legislative priorities for this year. In 2014, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced legislation to reform asset forfeiture and is expected to soon reintroduce this legislation with bipartisan support. Advocates applaud Attorney General Holder’s decision to prohibit state and local law enforcement from utilizing the Equitable Sharing program for most civil asset forfeiture seizures but urge Congress to pass legislation that makes this reform permanent and fixes federal forfeiture more broadly.

“First, sentencing reform, then marijuana reform, and now asset forfeiture reform,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Eric Holder will go down in history for his pivotal role in addressing the excesses and abuses of law enforcement in America.”

Attorney General Eric Holder’s legacy will be his work on criminal justice reform. His accomplishments include:

  • Calling on policymakers at all levels to find ways to reduce the number of people behind bars.
  • Supporting efforts in Congress and the U.S. Sentencing Commission to reduce punitive sentencing.
  • Supporting policies that made the sentences of thousands of prisoners shorter and fairer.
  • Changing how the Justice Department charges people to reduce the application of draconian mandatory minimum sentencing.
  • Establishing guidance allowing states to legalize and regulate marijuana with less federal interference.
  • Establishing guidance to make it easier for banks to deal with state-legalized marijuana businesses.
  • Promoting efforts to re-integrate formerly incarcerated individuals into society and eliminate barriers to successful re-entry.
  • Working to end the “school-to-prison pipeline”, including working with the Departments of Education to scale back “zero tolerance” school discipline policies.
  • Advocating for the restoration of voting rights for the formerly incarcerated.
  • Urging federal law enforcement agencies to identify, train and equip personnel who may interact with a victim of a heroin overdose with the overdose-reversal drug naloxone.

Source: Drug Policy Alliance


Today Attorney General Eric Holder announced a new policy, effective immediately, that will greatly restrict the ability of state and local police forces to use federal law to seize goods without charging an individual with a crime. Civil asset forfeiture is a process by which authorities seize property alleged to have been involved in a crime, charge the property directly, since goods do not have the same constitutional protections as their owners, and then keep most of the proceeds for departmental use.

For years, this practice has been a major incentive for police to make false charges and seize assets without having to prove “guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” and instead only meet the lower “preponderance of the evidence” standard of civil cases. Today’s announcement means police departments will still be permitted to make seizures under state and local laws, but they will no longer be able to use the DOJ Equitable Sharing Program to use federal law to do so.

“Civil asset forfeiture laws turn many fundamental concepts of democracy upside down, creating an assumption of ‘guilty until proven innocent,'” said Major Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “Before today, anyone could have their money or assets taken by police without ever being charged with a crime and with little chance of ever getting it back. Today is a major victory for anyone who cares about due process and the rule of law.”

Drug charges are among the most commonly used to justify such seizures. They are particularly appealing because a court may permit the seizure of cash related to drug sales as well as any property associated with the alleged crime. This may include personal property such as boats, cars, airplanes or land owned by the alleged wrongdoer. The department is then free to use these most of these assets as they see fit.

In most cases, property owners are unable to retrieve their property because of onerous appeals procedures and because the burden of proof shifted to owners to prove their innocence rather than the burden being on the state to prove their guilt.Because the amount seized is often less than the cost of contesting the case in court, 5 out of 6 people never challenge the case.

A September 2014 Washington Post report found that since 9/11, nearly 62,000 cash seizures totaling more than $2.5 billion were conducted without search warrants.

The announcement comes one week after Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee; Rep. James F. Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on crime, terrorism, homeland security and investigations; Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.); and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) sent Holder a letter urging him to rein in asset forfeiture practices.

There are a few exceptions to the new policy, including “illegal firearms, ammunition, explosives and property associated with child pornography, a small fraction of the total. This would eliminate virtually all cash and vehicle seizures made by local and state police from the program.”

LEAP is a nonprofit of criminal justice professionals who know the war on drugs has created a public safety nightmare of increased gang violence, police militarization and the fueling of dangerous underground markets.


About Author

Johnny Green


  1. Nope. Does not say Obama “seized/prosecuted/convicted more cannabis users (8 X’s the amount) in 6 years than loser (R) george bush did in 8 years.”

    You’re wasting our time. Just admit you were bullshitting.

  2. This is a story about asset forfeiture. It DOES NOT SAY Obama “seized/prosecuted/convicted more cannabis users (8 X’s the amount) in 6 years than loser (R) george bush did in 8 years.”

  3. Another swing and a miss. This article DOES NOT say Obama “seized/prosecuted/convicted more cannabis users (8 X’s the amount) in 6 years than loser (R) george bush did in 8 years.”

  4. Maybe you can address why you have yet again failed to produce proof that Obama “seized/prosecuted/convicted more cannabis users (8 X’s the amount) in 6 years than loser (R) george bush did in 8 years”?

    You know, since there is nothing in this sad story that says so.

    There is something interesting in this story though…

    “In 2013, Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued new guidance for all U.S. attorneys, saying it is “not an efficient use of federal resources to focus [medical marijuana] enforcement efforts on seriously ill individuals.” Now that Harvey’s health has declined so severely, it’s unclear if the memo could apply since the case began more than two years ago.”

    Did any of GW Bush’s DAGs do that? Would Willard Romney have? Maybe John McCains?

    Do you even care about facts and truth?

    Fact is, you lied. You have NO evidence that Obama has “”seized/prosecuted/convicted more cannabis users (8 X’s the amount) in 6 years than loser (R) george bush did in 8 years.”

    But you have provided evidence that Obama has been making changes that GW Bush and the GOP didn’t.

  5. Kathleen Chippi on

    “So, now you’re dropping your bullshit assertion that “seized/prosecuted/convicted more cannabis users (8 X’s the amount) in 6 years than loser (R) george bush did in 8 years”?”

    No I am not. I am wasting no more time on people like you who support or praise this administration on pot–especially after SCAMpaigning they would not harass people in ‘legal’ states 6 years ago.


    but maybe you can address why the feds are prosecuting another sick person and his whole family compliant with state laws?

  6. So, now you’re dropping your bullshit assertion that “seized/prosecuted/convicted more cannabis users (8 X’s the amount) in 6 years than loser (R) george bush did in 8 years”?

    “you adore enough to make excuses for”

    I don’t adore anyone but my family. I certainly don’t adore politicians. But when one is much better than the alternatives, I’ll certainly point it out. And when someone bullshits, stating with authority supposed “facts” for which they have no proof, I’ll certainly point that out as well.

    And in case you’ve forgotten, this post is about this administration making a big change on having “assets robbed by the gov…”

  7. Kathleen Chippi on

    lol–send my love to your ‘righteous’ president and the justice administration you adore enough to make excuses for while people have their families broken up and their assets robbed by the gov…..

  8. From:


    I don’t see any evidence that shows that this administration has “seized/prosecuted/convicted more cannabis users (8 X’s the amount) in 6 years than loser (R) george bush did in 8 years.”

    The story by Johnny Green makes allegations, but offers no link or source to support them. Here’s his statement:

    “Far surpassing his predecessor George W. Bush, President Obama has conducted more than 200 SWAT-style raids on state-compliant medical marijuana businesses and has indicted more than 80 people since he took office.”

    No source. No numbers. Nothing. Not a total conducted by Bush for comparison. No percentage by which Obama surpassed Bush. No link where we could go to get the numbers and do the math for ourselves…

    So, absolutely nothing in that story that backs up your contention that Obama has “seized/prosecuted/convicted more cannabis users (8 X’s the amount) in 6 years than loser (R) george bush did in 8 years.”



    This story will be two years old in June. At the time it was written, Obama had only been President four 5 1/2 years. Not 6.

    Further, the story says: “Under the administration of President Barack Obama, more money has been spent and nearly as many Americans thrown in prison over medical marijuana than was done under onetime favorite liberal punching bag George W. Bush, according to a pair of studies conducted by Americans for Safe Access and California NORML, both released today.”

    Nearly as many. Not 8 times as many. So, another swing and a miss.




    This is a story, from July 2013, about growers, not the set of people you were referring to, “cannabis users.” It does offer direct refutation of your assertion, though.

    “”153 medical marijuana cases have been brought in the 4 ¼ years of the Obama administration, nearly as many as under the 8 years of the Bush administration (163),” according to NORML’s report.”

    So, “nearly as many” to you is 8 times as many?




    We have an info graphic that shows “Estimated Number of Actions** Taken Against Medical Marijuana. It says Bush had 340 “actions” and Obama had “956.3”.

    I’m not a math whiz, but 956 is NOT 8 times 340. It’s not even three times.

    But wait, there’s more! “Actions,” according to the report from Americans for Safe Access, include pretrial supervision, investigations, raids, arrests, landlord letters, asset forfeiture, prosecution, appeals, incarcerations, and probations.

    So, another swing and a miss. This story DOES NOT confirm your assertion that Obama has “seized/prosecuted/convicted more cannabis users (8 X’s the amount) in 6 years than loser (R) george bush did in 8 years.”


    So, you haven’t even coming close to proving your assertion.

    Here’s an article from the Libertarian Magazine (not Obama fans by any measure) written by Jacob Sullum:

    > Is Obama the Drug Warrior Becoming Obama the Reformer? The president has begun to deliver on promises of a more rational, less punitive approach to psychoactive substances.


  9. Kathleen Chippi on
  10. “I see it embarrasses you that Obama hasn’t rescheduled”

    You’re hallucinating. I’m not embarrassed because I never expected him to do something he never said he would. I’ll be pleasantly surprised if he does.

    “my friends, the Libertarian Republicans, are making a lot of the movement in Congress possible.”

    Actually, they are a tiny part of the coalition that passes pro-marijuana bills. The vast majority of the coalition are Democrats.

    And if we had a Democratic Majority, we wouldn’t need any of the handful of Republicans who have to go against their party to do the right thing.

    “he tells me that a lot more Republicans favor ending Prohibition than you can see from what they say or don’t say in the press.”


    “They are helpful too by not blocking progress”

    They can’t block progress because a majority of House members can out vote them. That majority consists over 90% of the Democrats and about 20% of the Republicans.

    If that pro-marijuana majority wanted to, they could bring a discharge petition to a vote, and no one could stop them.

    “it will probably come by a court case”

    What court case?

  11. “this (D) administration has seized/prosecuted/convicted more cannabis users (8 X’s the amount) in 6 years than loser (R) george bush did in 8 years.”

    Whoa, now… you got a source for that? Because if you’re going to lay out something like that, you should have some source to back that up….

    “no matter the party affiliation, they are all members of the lairs/cheaters/corruption/BS club”

    No they’re not. Plenty of good people trying to do the right thing out there. Especially on this issue. But I’d be really interested in seeing your source for the things you said, you know, in order to see what club you belong to.

  12. Kathleen Chippi on

    yes, this (D) administration has seized/prosecuted/convicted more cannabis users (8 X’s the amount) in 6 years than loser (R) george bush did in 8 years. kudo’s to all. Including DPA/MPP as apparently they forgot their analysis (4 and 6 years) of this administrations egregious assault on cannabis users after campaigning the exact opposite. Great work!

    Yet, cannabis, the safest therapeutic substance known to man, is not REMOVED from schedule, as SCIENCE and 10,000 years (research/experimentation) of recorded human use require and millions of innocent people who were unfortunate enough to be caught with cannabis still sit in jail and/or where ankle bracelets or live in halfway houses or pee in cups, where fellow humans examine bodily waste for proof of use that can and will be held against them…..

    no matter the party affiliation, they are all members of the lairs/cheaters/corruption/BS club

  13. I see it embarrasses you that Obama hasn’t rescheduled. If I was such a partisan it would embarrass me too.

    As to politics: my friends, the Libertarian Republicans, are making a lot of the movement in Congress possible. I’m quite happy with them and glad they will work with anyone to move forward on their goals.

    I have a friend who lobbies Congress and he tells me that a lot more Republicans favor ending Prohibition than you can see from what they say or don’t say in the press. They are helpful too by not blocking progress. There are still some diehards but from what I see most Congress critters would prefer to have the issue off the table by 2016.

    I think we will see rescheduling no later than early 2016. And it will probably come by a court case. It could come as soon as March or April of this year.

  14. Thanks, Johnny, for the comprehensive list of things that have been done by Holder and the Obama DOJ. It’s even more impressive than I thought. This one is huge.

  15. You have changed the subject. That’s what bullshitters do.

    The subject of this post is an action taken by the Obama Department of Justice. It did not need, nor did it get, any help from the handful of Republicans who vote with the 90 some odd percent of Democrats on the issues you referenced.

    “You need allies”

    I have allies. Lots of them. Mostly Democrats. If we elected a big enough Democratic Majority, like we just might in 2016, then we won’t need any of the handful of Republicans who vote with the Democrats now.

    See how that works?


    You have changed the subject again. But, of course, the question back at you is, how is President McCain coming on rescheduling? How is President Willard coming?

    Did you vote for Bush? How did he do on rescheduling?

    This administration has proven that it is willing to make changes that no Republican administraiton EVER WOULD HAVE.

    You got that?

    Now, we’ll see if the best chance we’ve ever had at rescheduling actually happens. But the best I could ever hope for, since Obama never said he would do it, is A CHANCE.

    And under the Republican Presidential candidates for whom you probably voted, we would have had exactly NO chance.

    See how that works?

  16. In fact – the libertarian faction has changed the dynamics. Not bad for a 49 member minority.

    DC Pot

    And you will recall that faction – allied with Democrats – protected State Medical Cannabis initiatives. You couldn’t have done it without us.

    You need allies. Especially now that your faction is reduced in Congress.

    And BTW how is Obama/Holder coming on rescheduling?

  17. Most excellent. The one thing he hasn’t done is to reschedule cannabis. I’m hoping it is because he thinks his hands are tied politically and he wants a court to put it in the “herbal” classification to allow for hemp.

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