Reacting to the push from the Department of Justice under Jeff Sessions to increase federal power over civil asset forfeiture, Congress seems to be pushing back. A bipartisan effort to peel back the federal government’s civil asset forfeiture programs is gaining traction with Congress members.
At a time when disagreements between the two major parties has led to a federal government shutdown, it’s surprising to see some agreement on major policy reform. But a bipartisan push from two Representatives from different parties and regions of the United States could just be the tip of the iceberg in federal civil forfeiture reform.
Last Wednesday, Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI) and Ted Lieu (D-CA) reintroduced HR 4816, or the “Stop Civil Asset Forfeiture Funding for Marijuana Suppression Act.” The bill is primarily aimed at stopping the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from using money from federal forfeiture to fund its Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program.
The bill has likely attracted the ire of Attorney General Jefferson Sessions, who has made a great effort to increase the power of the federal government in both areas (as his stances on civil asset forfeiture and legal marijuana indicate). Aside from his expansion of federal asset forfeiture, Sessions has given the green light to federal prosecutors to enforce federal marijuana laws even in states where the drug has been legalized for medical or recreational use.
The DEA’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program has been responsible for almost 30,000 arrests, the eradication of 21.6 million marijuana plants, and the seizure of more than $165 million worth of property nationwide. This is seen by some as a gross overreach of federal power in what should be a state-level issue. The DEA has even funded law enforcement agencies in suppression of marijuana in states that legalized it for medicinal or recreational use.
“Civil asset forfeiture is an unconstitutional practice whereby the government takes people’s property without due process,” Rep. Amash said. “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.”
The bill introduced by Congressmen Lieu and Amash continues a trend of Republicans and Democrats crossing the aisle in order to defend U.S. citizens from federal civil asset forfeiture. In September of last year, the House of Representatives adopted three amendments that would cut off funds a forfeiture program that was revived by Sessions. The vote for the amendments was unanimous in a House of Representatives that is largely perceived as one of the most divided in history.
However, despite increased cooperation across the aisle, it will take more than a few amendments to prevent federal asset forfeiture from affecting U.S. citizens.
Speaking about the reintroduction of an unpopular asset forfeiture program, Sessions said, “I love that program. We had so much fun doing that, taking drug dealers’ money and passing it out to people trying to put drug dealers in jail.”
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