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Equitable Sharing: How Local Cops Get Around State Law To Steal Your Stuff

Michael Komorn

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Perhaps the most painful and profitable aspect of many police raids is the civil forfeiture process. Unlike criminal forfeiture, in civil forfeiture people do not need to be convicted or even charged with a crime to lose their cash, cars and property. Patients and caregivers in Michigan are all too familiar with this abusive police practice. My clients have had everything from cars, tv's, cash, computers, wedding rings, power tools and even priceless family heirlooms stolen from them by police during raids on their homes. Anything that the police find of value, they are sure to take.

The typical raid goes something like this:

1) The police enter the family home at night with ski-masks, vests, and guns drawn. They look more like paramilitary units than police.

2) They force family members, including elder grandparents and young children face first onto the ground, sometimes separating them from critical devices such as oxygen tanks or other medical necessities.

3) They destroy the home, ripping apart bedrooms and mattresses, breaking or prying doors open, putting holes in the walls, slashing furniture. Sometimes my clients have not been present during the raid, and come home to find what looks like a burglary, only to find out it was the cops who stole their things and left a trail of destruction in their wake.

4) Perplexingly, no charges are filed. At least not at that moment. Medical Marijuana Patients and Caregivers are left in limbo for months, sometimes years before they are charged with a crime.

5) My clients are given 21 days to claim their items, and must pay top dollar to reacquire them from the police who stole them. How are you supposed to get to work without your car? People who have not been charged with a crime are forced to pay a ransom just to get their much needed work cars, trucks, or computers back.

So what happens to that property? More often than not, it is auctioned off never to be seen again, or sold back to the owner for a considerable profit. The police get to keep every penny and with it, buy more powerful guns, flashy motorcycles and military-style vehicles, or form their own SWAT teams, to name a few examples. Each department puts more money into their armories rather than into education and classes for their officers.

Related: THE EDWARD BYRNE MEMORIAL COMPETITIVE GRANT PROGRAM-GOOD INTENTIONS GONE AWRY

The police in Michigan have not been taught about the MMMA. I know this because when I get them on the stand, you wouldn't believe the things they say when asked simple questions about it. This could be because the only training many Michigan police have came when they were made to attend private seminars (which I was barred from attending) which dealt specifically with the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, hosted by Attorney General Bill Schuette. Schuette called these seminars, "Clearing the Air," and in them told police that if they returned the marijuana they seized from legal, card holding caregivers and patients, they would be violating federal law and could be charged with delivery of a controlled substance.

The content of these seminars has since been posted online and can be viewed here: http://annarborchronicle.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Schuette-Seminar.pdf

The people of Michigan didn't pass the MMMA in 2008 to make it easier for police to catch people who use marijuana, or to create criminals out of police, for that matter. With the highest legal authority in the state telling police that they are committing a crime if they follow state law, we have a clear conflict of interest.

As we see more states enacting not only medical marijuana legalization, but legalization for recreational use, the practice of civil forfeiture becomes threatened, and police will do anything to protect their cash cow. In the 42 states that allow police departments to profit from forfeiture, that cash flow has funded both the militarization of police and allowed law enforcement to make ridiculous purchases, including a margarita machine, a Hawaiian vacation, and a Dodge Viper.

Nationwide, the Wall Street Journal reported the federal government acquired $1 billion in forfeiture from marijuana cases over the past decade. With legalization now in place in Colorado and Washington, with other states sure to follow, forfeiture revenue for the police departments that have relied on it is threatened. According to one report, legal cannabis and the subsequent drop in forfeiture have already caused one drug task force in Washington to cut its budget by 15 percent. That’s great news for due process and property rights. But the police have a trick up their sleeve which allows the to usurp the state legalization efforts and enforce federal law instead. It's called “equitable sharing." Local and State enforcement teams can still profit from civil forfeiture by collaborating with Federal Law Enforcement.

Equitable sharing is a two-way street: For the federal government to “adopt” a forfeiture case, cops can approach the feds and vice-versa. The U.S. Department of Justice has applications online for agencies to apply for adoption and to transfer federally forfeited property. Crucially, criminal charges do not have to accompany a civil forfeiture case.

The proceeds from federal forfeitures are deposited into the DOJ’s Asset Forfeiture Fund. After the DOJ determines the size of the cut for the feds, equitable sharing allows the local police to take up to 80 percent of what the property is worth. In fiscal year 2012, the federal government paid out almost $700 million in equitable sharing proceeds to local and state law enforcement agencies.

Equitable sharing tempts cops to become bounty hunters, even in states with legal marijuana. Tony Jalali is living proof of this travesty. Jalali almost lost his businessover four grams of marijuana.

After immigrating to the United States from Iran in 1978, Jalali became a successful small business owner. Jalali owns an office building in Anaheim, Calif.—worth around $1.5 million—that he rents out to fund his retirement.

Among the more staid tenants—a dentist’s office, an insurance company—was ReLeaf Health & Wellness, a medical marijuana dispensary. Posing as a patient with a legitimate doctor’s recommendation, an undercover Anaheim police officer bought $37 worth of cannabis from that dispensary. Keep in mind that medical marijuana sales were—and are—legal in California under state law, and this Anaheim cop worked for local law enforcement, not the feds.

Jalali never bought or sold marijuana. Jalali was not charged with any crime nor was he warned that renting to a dispensary could lead to civil forfeiture. “I had no idea I was doing anything wrong," Jalali said.

Yet for the DEA, which collaborated with Anaheim police in pursing the forfeiture, that $37 pot sale was enough evidence that Jalali should lose his property.

This should not have happened under California law. Not only did California voters legalize medical marijuana in 1996, state law bans forfeiting real property (like a home or a business) unless the owner has been convicted of a crime related to the property. In fact, Anaheim authorities even requested aid from California prosecutors to take action against Jalali’s property. State officials refused.

But the state’s protections don’t exist on the federal level. By participating in equitable sharing, Anaheim police could directly benefit from a federal forfeiture, bypassing California law to cash in on Jalali’s property.

The equitable sharing loophole still exists. The federal government can continue to prosecute criminal cases and litigate civil forfeiture actions related to cannabis. Citing the risk of federal forfeiture, Wells Fargo, one of Colorado’s largest banks, has refused to finance properties in that state’s marijuana industry. The incentives behind equitable sharing are primed for abuse. Property owners’ protection from forfeiture currently depends on prosecutorial discretion. That is no substitute for meaningful legal reform.



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agreed, they do look like military.  in the raid on my house on tuesday afternoon they wore all bLack, plus masks, and the only markings on the vests said in white, police.  8 officers, 7 male and 1 female, burst into the room waving long guns and short guns.  they handcuffed the 3 of us, all patients, two with complete regs, 1 with only dr. cert, they hollered find the cameras, where's the cameras,  wheres the dog?  they found none and sounded mad about it.

--we don't give a ---- about marijuana, where's the heroin/cash/guns /cocaine/cash?   f--- your marijuana.  we have good info you have heroin and cash.  after an hour they took 22 plants, a scale,a dn dry meds. they said we know you are patients but--=--this is an illlegal grow op and so give us 2-3 names and you don't have to go to jail---or we'll take your plants.  they took 22 plants and all dry meds and said we gave you a chance....HA HA.

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have a good day and then took off our cuffs (after the plant truck had driven away) and only 4  leos remained, they brot up subcool winnning the cannabis cup with a 34% strain 2 years ago and at that point i opened my mouth and wordlessly laffed laughed my toothiest roar back at them and they jumped, startled.

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totally here you i feel your pain : high im a medical marijuana paitent and my wife is my caregiver i am a disabled war veteran who fought for are country and are rights and now suffer from cancer and both me and my wife face felonie charges and no way to pay for any legal help. it pretty messed up these days all somebody has to do is get upset and lie and wallah there free to go but now there a huge investigation into our lives cause they were told no. when if they would of took half the time to look at our notices and are locked doors and bothered to even check to see if we even had are cards they would have known that we were not criminals and were not doing any thing wrong but now that all up to the courts to decide what they want i guess lost so much sleep and cant even eat so devestated at what they have done that im worried everyday if im even gonna have a home to stay in let alone how am i suppose to even get to my doctor appointments sure wish there was answers out there for us. and that are law makers put something into play that starts protectiing are rights a little better than what they have. cause words like free from prosecution and arrest and incareration are litteraly taken for granted when stuff like this happens why even have a registry card to begin with if your just gonna gustafo sick innocent people. well if anybody has a idea on how to answer these questions please feel free to contact me at 6164309852

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Why is this article on a MM website? The public at large by vast majorities support law enforcement, as do I. From the responses above it seems only to have inflamed the illiterate.

 

We need to legitimize MM, and do so by being completely transparent and non-threatening to the undereducated opposition to marijuana.

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I have also suffered a severe loss. I understand the stress and negativity that stems from being a complete legal operation but still raided and taken advantage of. Sirace420 I feel for you. You and your situation will be in my thoughts and prayers. As for us, when do we take a stand? I don't mean to make the police enforcement officers pay personally because of the injustice of our system, but why do we reap the negative effects and suffering ? Why do we have to obtain the stress and long justification for our reasons when we are even in complete compliance of the law? Something has to give. Let's push. Let's make a difference. Let's start something that forces the law to change, to make it more clear and understandable. How do we do this? Who will take a stand with me??

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