Asset Forfeiture Gone Wild: After Pot Raids, Cops Seize 7 Houses

In practice, asset forfeiture has become an irreplaceable revenue stream for American law enforcement officers, but has it gone too far? Ummm, yes.
Asset Forfeiture Gone Wild: After Pot Raids, Cops Seize 7 Houses

If you live in the bicoastal bubble ensconcing most of America’s elites, you may be surprised to learn the true value of things in much of the rest of the country. Home values—and the cost of houses seized by police following a marijuana raid—are a fine example.

In much of Middle America, including the heartland and Rust Belt areas that handed Donald Trump the presidency, the difference between buying a home and a fully loaded, full-size pickup truck is merely the choice of where you’d like to spend the same $40,000 to $50,000. Would you like four rooms or four-wheel drive?

I point this out only to temper the outrage somewhat and put into full context this gem from Michigan, where state authorities have forfeited—that is, seized—seven homes involved in a marijuana raid earlier this year.

As the Saginaw News is reporting, the Michigan State Police Narcotics Enforcement Team raided eight homes on March 17 in Michigan’s Saginaw County. Police seized 285 plants and 172 pounds of cannabis and arrested 18 people, all of whom stand accused of violating state medical-marijuana laws, which allow cannabis patients and caregivers to cultivate marijuana for no more than five people.

“If you have that card to only service five people, you can’t service 10, and that’s what this is all going to come down to,” said Chris Boyd, the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case, in a March interview with the News.

All of the arrested, some of whom have pleaded out to lesser charges, were renters.

The homes, as the newspaper reported, were owned by an unnamed corporation out of Miami—where at least a few of the suspects resided before heading north to grow and sell weed locally, according to police.

As we’ve reported before, there’s wide support for marijuana legalization in Michigan, but not among the state’s law-enforcement apparatus. A widely held theory is that police and prosecutors oppose cannabis legalization because legal weed will make conducting business, as usual, more difficult—and the usual course of business is to seize property connected with the production and sale of illegal drugs and to absorb the proceeds into the local police budget.

In practice, asset forfeiture has become an irreplaceable revenue stream for American law enforcement officers, who forfeit more cash and property from American citizens than they recover from thieves and burglars—who, meanwhile, appear to be skating scot-free.

According to a Justice Department inspector general’s report, in more than 81 percent of asset forfeiture cases, no charges were filed.

In this case, the Michigan homes were all worth between $21,000 and $37,000—Ford F-150 money, unless you want the top-end models, in which case a pickup truck is worth two homes—and they were all bought between July and November 2016 by the out-of-state corporation based in Miami, and then rented to one or more of the defendants in the case.

This has the look and feel of a sophisticated operation connected with organized crime—not exactly the type of outfit to garner much sympathy in Donald Trump’s America, where federal law enforcement has promised to allow asset forfeiture to continue unfettered.

All but one of the homes have already been forfeited, as the property owner chose not to contest the seizures. So, if you need an affordable place to live, albeit in an area where earnings are below the national median, contact the authorities, who are now in the landlord business.

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