Civil Forfeiture for Marijuana Businesses

      The nightmare of every marijuana business owner is the enforcement of the federal marijuana seizure program. On September 16th, 2015, a bill has been presented to prevent the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from using forfeiture to pay for its Cannabis Eradication Program. Members of the U.S. House of Representatives; Mr. Ted W. Lieu (D) and Mr. Justin Amash (R) introduced this bill to reduce funding for the DEA’s Program.

In a year, the United States earns an annual profit of $12 billion dollars from civil forfeitures. Under the DEA’s Cannabis Eradication Program around $18 million have been collected in 2013. More than one-third of seized assets have been reported in California. Proponents of this law argue that it curbs illegal trade and the law is important in curbing crimes and crippling criminal organizations. An example is that it allows authorities seize cash and other assets especially from the trafficking of narcotics. However, the opponents of this law argue that it affects even innocent citizens who are not involved in this process. The right of the property also provided in the Constitution is violated. It does not follow the due process of the law where one is supposed to be proved guilty beyond reasonable doubt and presumes one is guilty even before the court process starts. Critics of the civil forfeiture law have argues that it leads to corruption and abuse of legal benefits that citizens enjoy.

Legalization of marijuana in the states of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington has led to a drop of forfeitures in marijuana related cases. However, under federal law, marijuana is still illegal and legalizing it in local states has created ambiguity in civil forfeiture proceedings. Due to equitable sharing, even in states where medical or recreational marijuana is legalized, federal provisions allow the local and state enforcement to go after the marijuana cases and do civil forfeitures.

This might change soon. In January, the FAIR Act has been reintroduced. This initiative will require more evidence to forfeit property. The bill has currently over 80 cosponsors and in the months to come, more forfeiture reform legislation is expected.

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