We keep warning marijuana growers that marijuana legalization isn’t a get out of jail free card, even when you’re fully complying with all the marijuana rules that apply to you.
This fact is made very clear by what happened to legal Michigan medical marijuana patient Ginnifer Hency.
She has multiple sclerosis and is a mother of four children, and was fully compliant with Michigan medical cannabis law, authorized to grow, possess, and transport marijuana for her own medical needs and the needs of several other patients.
But that didn’t matter to Michigan police in 2014. They raided Hency’s home, terrorized her, and arrested her after finding six ounces of marijuana.
The six ounces were totally legal, and all charges against Hency were later thrown out.
But police did something more than just wrongfully arrest her when they raided Hency’s home—they also robbed her of everything she owned.
And a year later, they still refuse to give her possessions back.
In media interviews and in testimony in front of the Michigan state government’s House Judiciary Committee recently, Hency described the horrors of the raid and its aftermath.
“They destroyed the inside of my home and took all the medicine for my patients. I have 4 children, all teenagers. They took the children’s social security cards, computers, phone, and birth certificates. They took my home ownership documents, my divorce decree, child custody agreement, medical records, my patients’ medical records. They even took my vibrator. They tore things up for no reason. They took my ladder. They pooped in all three bathroom toilets without flushing, and peed in the oven. They hung my daughter’s underwear from banister and trashed my bedroom. As soon as the judge dismissed all charges, I went to prosecutor’s office expecting to get my stuff back. But the prosecutor said ‘I can still beat you in civil court, I can still keep your stuff.’”
Hency points out that the judge said there wasn’t even probable cause that she committed a crime.
She should never have been arrested or raided, and yet she still has not gotten her possessions back.
The sad fact is, she and thousands of other marijuana defendants are victims of “asset forfeiture,” a drug war tool used by police to rob citizens even if no crimes have been committed.
A Detroit Free Press article revealed that Michigan police used “civil forfeiture” laws to take $24 million in assets from Michiganders in 2013. In many cases the citizens were never charged with a crime but lost their property anyway.
Civil asset forfeiture has long been an incentive for federal, state, and local law enforcement to target marijuana growers and users.
The basic scam is for police to use a marijuana bust as an excuse to steal cars, cash, jewelry, and other valuable items, even if those items have nothing to do with the marijuana “crimes.”
And even when all charges are dismissed, victims of police theft don’t automatically get their possessions returned!
They often have to plead with the police and prosecutors, or spend money to file a challenge to asset forfeiture in civil court.
In Michigan, police get to keep 100% of what they steal from citizens.
According to Charmie Gholson, the leader of advocacy group Michigan Moms United who testified about asset forfeiture to a Michigan legislative panel, asset forfeiture encourages police to go after marijuana people rather than people who commit violent crimes.
Another problem is that police do asset forfeiture even if there’s flimsy evidence that assets are connected to a crime, or that a crime has been committed at all.
Of course, Ginnifer Hencey isn’t the only Michigan marijuana person who got robbed by police.
In 2013, for example, a 72-year-old legal marijuana grower was raided by a SWAT team who seized his car, his TV, his cell phone, and even tried to take his home.
In 2010, 69-year-old retiree Ed Boyke, a dad of four and Vietnam vet with no criminal record, was raided by police who seized his car, a leaf blower, a big-screen TV, and other possessions.
Then police demanded that he give them $5,000 in cash—or else they’d use civil asset forfeiture to steal his house.
Some Michigan legislators are trying to change asset forfeiture laws so cars can’t be stolen by police from people accused of minor marijuana crimes.
Proposed changes would also require that police provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime has been committed and that seized assets are connected to the crime.
The problem is bigger than Michigan—the federal government has long been in an asset forfeiture profit-sharing program that encourages local police to seize assets or initiate arrests.
In partnership with the feds, marijuana growers and users are arrested, their assets are seized, and the feds and locals share in the profits.
The federal Department of Justice recently altered its policies slightly, so the feds won’t participate in forfeiture unless someone is actually convicted of a crime.
But asset forfeiture remains a potent drug war tool, and creates a massive amount of police and prosecutorial misconduct.
Take for example the case of Southern California resident Tony Jalali.
He owns an office building in Anaheim worth $1.5 million and rents out space to various businesses.
One of those businesses was ReLeaf Health & Wellness, a medical marijuana dispensary legal under California marijuana law.
An undercover Anaheim police officer bought $37 worth of cannabis from the dispensary, using false documents to do so.
Turns out that the DEA was in bed with local police and had targeted the dispensary so it could do asset forfeiture against Jalali to steal his entire building away from him.
The crazy thing is, California law bans seizure of property unless the owner has been convicted of a crime. That’s why Anaheim police went into partnership with the DEA.
Under the profit-sharing arrangement, even though local and state courts could never seize Jalali’s building, the feds can seize it, and then split the proceeds with local law enforcement.
The insanity of asset forfeiture can be seen in the fact that in the Central District of California that includes Anaheim and Los Angeles, the feds filed 30 forfeiture actions against landlords and threatened more than 525 marijuana businesses in 2012 and 2013.
Since 2008, Anaheim police have received over $21 million in forfeiture proceeds from the federal government.
How can you as a marijuana grower or user protect yourself from police thieves?
The most obvious tactic is to never get busted, and there are many articles on BigBudsMag.com giving you the inside story on avoiding detection by police and what to do if you come in contact with police.
It also helps if you don’t have your bling, cash, guns, and other assets registered to or stored in the same place where you grow or possess marijuana.
Put security cameras in and around your home, and learn to use your cell phone video camera, so you can record exactly what happens if you endure a police encounter.
If you get busted, immediately document what police did to your home, car, and other possessions, and immediately file a detailed claim against police in civil court.
The bottom line is until marijuana is totally legal at the state and federal levels, marijuana growers and users have to be on guard against raids, arrests, and asset forfeiture.