It’s been almost 50 years since states began decriminalizing marijuana (Oregon was the first in 1973!), taking the law into their own hands as they recognized federal laws surrounding the drug would take a long time to change. More than two decades ago, California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal use, another trend that swept across the U.S. and was implemented in many states.
Despite all of this progress, however, and even as more states legalize recreational marijuana, the plant remains illegal at the federal level, which makes it subject to federal intervention. Because of this, civil asset forfeiture is a serious concern.
Civil forfeiture is the legal process in which law enforcement can take your property, even when no court has found you guilty of a crime, simply because you’ve been accused of being connected to a crime. It is largely seen as a huge overstep by the executive branch, and even the Supreme Court of the U.S. has found that civil forfeiture often violates the constitution. The justices found that the act of forfeiture is often in violation of the Eighth Amendment for excessive fines because the amount seized is excessive, especially for someone who hasn’t yet been found guilty.
Therefore, although it is still technically permissable for police to take your possessions without legal proceedings, the supreme court seems to recognize that the process is unlawful. If you were ever a victim of civil forfeiture, this ruling increases your chances of getting back your possessions with the law on your side. However, the fact that this is still a concern people must face highlights the legal allowances that are made for police to abuse the rights of citizens and the consequences that come as a result of this.
As a modern act of rebellion, citizens are spreading information in hopes of helping others know their rights and, therefore, know how to act when their rights are violated. Calls to action often involve the spread of proactive information that can help others recognize when their rights are being infringed upon and how to respond to law enforcement in these scenarios. Although the implications of needing to spread this information are somewhat dire themselves, the public pushback and comradery surrounding this abuse of power might be a positive takeaway.
State-Level Cannabis Laws
As more information about marijuana’s medicinal benefits surfaces, a larger percentage of the population than ever are in support of marijuana legalization. Studies show that 84% of the public support the legalization of medical marijuana, which is largely believed to help individuals with certain medical issues.
However, federal law is slow to follow with this public trend, even if only medically, as there are many legislative factors about the change to consider, such as those incarcerated for selling marijuana. Even as states use their constitutional right to legalize the sale and use of marijuana, a tension between federal and state laws remains, as the lawful decisions of citizens are usually not protected outside of their state.
Civil asset forfeiture can be committed by both state and federal police. This can make criminal drug charges complicated, as federal police may see your involvement with a drug as criminal even though it’s allowed in your home state, which could potentially give them the right to seize your property, including your state-legal drugs, money, and anything they can associate with the crime they’re seeking to charge you for.
Supreme Court Case
A good example of these circumstances occurred in the Timbs v. Indiana case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court this year. According to OA Law, “In this case, Tyson Timbs, a resident of Indiana received a payout of cash from his father’s life insurance policy in 2012. He used $42,000.00 of the life insurance money to purchase a Land Rover. He used much of the rest of the life insurance money to purchase illegal drugs. He also sold drugs.”
Timbs was arrested for selling drugs in 2013. He was then sentenced to house arrest and ordered to pay a fine. The state also took hold of Timbs’ Land Rover, claiming it was involved in the crime. The Supreme Court ruled that this civil forfeiture was considered a matter of excessive fines, which violates a person’s rights. The case was helpful in clearing up the law for the many individuals who fall victim to this type of police abuse.
In most states, CBD oil became legal with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, which recategorized hemp as a plant in the agriculture industry. This means that federally, hemp and CBD are now legal, and although states may impose their own restrictions, the federal government has accepted the use of hemp as a plant and not a drug. The change has made the general use and distribution of CBD much easier, especially across state lines. It also opened doors to allow even more sweeping legalization in the future. Many laws in our judicial system are largely recognized as outdated. However, fighting them can become very difficult through the legislative process due to partisan issues. However, civil forfeiture is often considered an abuse of power, and it needs to be addressed. There’s a lot that goes into writing these laws properly, but once we take this step as a nation, we can begin to move forward toward justice for everyone.