Let's correct that error with this little piece by Ray Strack, who worked 27 years as a U.S. Customs special agent, and is the principal Florida spokesperson for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
Consider Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, Florida's most vocal opponent of medical-marijuana reform. During his highly publicized debate with attorney John Morgan, Judd vigorously defended his motives: "It may come as a shock to you," he told the audience in Lakeland, "but our budget is not predicated on arrests; it's not predicated on seizures; it's not created so we can spend that operating money on cars, or capital equipment, or operating equipment, or salaries."
According to Justice Department records, the Polk County Sheriff's Office took in more than $1.2 million from the federal Assets Forfeiture Fund just since 2007, part of the $230 million that all of Florida's law-enforcement agencies received from the fund during that period.
The fund distributes the proceeds of property seized in law-enforcement asset forfeitures, primarily from those suspected of drug crimes. No arrest is even required, and the standard of proof is significantly less than in a criminal case, making it a favorite tool of police and prosecutors. Carrying excess cash? It can be confiscated if officials can convince a judge the funds came from drug trafficking. Caught driving with a marijuana cigarette? Your car can be hauled away.
Between 1989 and 2010, U.S. attorneys seized at least $12.6 billion in assets, with the fund growing sixfold in just two decades, and from $2.9 billion to $4.4 billion in 2012 alone.
The states were quick to jump on the forfeiture bandwagon, and Florida was no exception. According to a 2010 Institute for Justice study, Florida law-enforcement agencies seized $104 million in assets between 2001 and 2003.
Florida's Contraband Forfeiture Act lets the sheriffs and other local law-enforcement agencies keep 85 percent of the value of the property they seize, with the remainder given to charities — doubtless buying considerable good will for the elected sheriffs at campaign time.
Where does the money go? In 2003, it was reported that top Tampa police officials kept a 43-vehicle fleet of captured cars that included five Lincoln Navigators, a pair of Ford Expeditions, a BMW, a Lexus and — former Police Chief Bennie Holder's personal favorite — a $38,000 Chevy Tahoe.
More recently, federal officials froze nearly $30 million that had been seized by police in tiny Bal Harbor (population 2,574), after the department was found spending the money on a $100,000 35-foot boat with three Mercury outboards, a $7,000 police chiefs' banquet, a $15,000 laser virtual firing range and an "anti-drug beach bash," with a reported price tag of $21,000.
In the Broward County town of Sunrise, millions in soon-to-be-forfeited cash led narcotics officers to lure international drug buyers into suburban restaurants so the department could confiscate $6 million in just two years. Much of the money went for police overtime in coordinating the seizures, with one narcotics detective in 2012 bringing home a combined salary and overtime of $183,156 — more than his chief of police earned.
Law enforcement should be about protecting the public, not pocketing profits. The Niagara of forfeited money flowing into sheriffs' offices and police departments distorts the police mission — and, in the case of Florida's Amendment 2, has blinded some law-enforcement administrators to the compassionate benefits of medical marijuana.
No amount of money justifies turning otherwise law-abiding patients into criminals or forcing sick people into the illicit drug market, where their dollars support drug cartels and criminal gangs. The only risk posed by Amendment 2 is to the police administrators' bottom lines.Taking money and property from sick people is just wrong.