Amid relentless partisan bickering, it can be downright surprising when Members of Congress actually agree on a major policy reform.
Multiple bills currently pending on the Hill would defund or eliminate many federal civil forfeiture programs. This notorious power enables law enforcement to permanently confiscate cash, cars, real estate and other valuable property without ever charging the owner with a crime. In a Kafkaesque twist, the property is the defendant in civil forfeiture cases, while owners must prove their innocence to recover what was taken.
On Wednesday, Reps. Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Justin Amash (R-MI) re-introduced HR 4816, the “Stop Civil Asset Forfeiture Funding for Marijuana Suppression Act.” As its name suggests, the bill would ban the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from using any federal forfeiture funds to support its Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program.
“Civil asset forfeiture is an unconstitutional practice whereby the government takes people’s property without due process,” Rep. Amash said in a statement. “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.”
Over the past five years, the DEA’s program has been responsible for nearly 30,000 arrests, the eradication of 21.6 million marijuana plants, and the seizure of more than $165 million worth of property nationwide. Controversially, the DEA has even funded law enforcement agencies to suppress marijuana in states that legalized the plant for medicinal or recreational use.
“The DEA’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program is a waste of time and money and runs contrary to the will of the people,” noted Rep. Lieu.
Congressmen Lieu and Amash’s bill is just the latest example of Democrats and Republicans crossing the aisle to protect Americans’ constitutional rights from civil forfeiture. In September, as part of a massive appropriations bill, the House of Representatives unanimously adopted three amendments that would cut off funds for an immensely unpopular forfeiture program revitalized by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Under a new directive announced in July, Sessions reversed limits on so-called “adoptive” forfeitures, imposed in 2015 by then Attorney General Eric Holder. Thanks to this program, local and state agencies can transfer seized property to federal agencies who “adopt” the seizure in order to forfeit it under federal—and not state—law, in exchange for up to 80 percent of the proceeds.
But under the House amendments, both the adoption program and the new Sessions directive would be defunded until October 2018. Those bipartisan amendments earned the support of two dozen organizations from all across the political spectrum, including the Institute for Justice, the American Conservative Union, the ACLU and the NAACP.