The US federal government has used the tactic extensively in its forty year old “war on drugs.” The possibility for abuse is great. Many local government agencies increasingly rely on “civil forfeiture” to bolster their strained budgets. Use of asset forfeiture is part of a “policing for profit” trend. See the March 2010 Institute for Justice Report Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture. Based on a legal fiction that enables law enforcement to take legal action against inanimate objects for participation in alleged criminal activity, regardless of whether the property owner is guilty or innocent—or even whether the owner is charged with a crime, asset forfeiture has generated much criticism. Nonetheless, it has become one of the most effective legal tools in the prosecutor’s arsenal allowing the government to seize and gain title to property obtained through criminal activity or used to further a criminal conspiracy. Criminal asset forfeiture can be used against drug producers and traffickers to cripple their operations and claim their profits. It can also be wielded in civil proceedings. In states implementing medical cannabis programs, personal property gained from or used for the sale of cannabis is subject to seizure due to the supremacy of federal laws prohibiting narcotics sales.
Last November, members of the Brooklyn Law School Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, participated in an Interview with Brooklyn Law School Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Part 3. Addressing recent marijuana legalization efforts in Colorado, Adam Scavone, BLS Class of 2013, noted that “Colorado seems to have worked out a system that can survive an attempt of repression by the Federal government . . . . to insulate people who want to enter that market from the tools that the federal government has on hand to shut down that market – the banking laws, asset forfeiture, and the old-fashioned handcuffs and federal prison. There are about 5,000 DEA agents in the country and 750,000 state and local law enforcement officers. More than 95% of the arrests made for drugs are made by state and local police officers. “