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 Forfeiting Freedom

Federal officials should back off an attempt
to seize a medical marijuana patient's house


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Source: Orange County Register, The (CA)
Published: Monday, February 7, 2005
Copyright: 2005 The Orange County Register
Contact: [email protected]

For a brief period it looked as if federal authorities were going to leave sick people who use marijuana medicinally alone for a while, at least until Raich v. Ashcroft, the medical marijuana case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, is decided. But it looks as if they're back.

Last week the federal government filed to take by forfeiture the home of Wesley Crosiar, 52, a medical marijuana patient who was growing 134 plants for himself and six other patients on his five acres of land near San Andreas in Calaveras County, in the eastern Sierras southeast of Sacramento.

Civil forfeiture, sometimes called seizure, is a process whereby authorities can seize property that is alleged to have been used in the commission of a crime or represents the proceeds of criminal activity. It has often been misused, because property can be seized when the person who owns it has not yet been convicted of or even formally charged with a crime.

The theory is that the property participated in the alleged crime, but since this is a civil rather than a criminal procedure there's no presumption of innocence and the burden of proof on the state is light. After decades of abuse both federal and state forfeiture laws have been tightened slightly in recent years, but they are still too permissive. Themajor flaw is that the police agency seizing the property gets to keep it or the proceeds of selling it, which creates a huge conflict of interest and an incentive to get "seizure fever."

To be sure, marijuana cultivation is still illegal under federal law, although cultivation for medical use is legal under California law. But before Californians passed Proposition 215 in 1996, the feds hardly ever went after cultivation that involved fewer than 1,000 plants.

This forfeiture action appears to be a deliberate effort to undermine California's medical marijuana law, which federal officials have always opposed. Too bad they are seeking to do so by victimizing sick people rather than trying to invalidate the law by challenging it in court. Newly confirmed U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should call them off.

Angel Raich v. Ashcroft News

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