The Supreme Court offered no explanation today for its refusal to hear the case of Lisa Olivia Leonard v. Texas. But one member of the Court did speak up. In a statement respecting the denial of certiorari in the case, Justice Clarence Thomas made it clear that he believes the current state of civil asset forfeiture law is fundamentally unconstitutional.
“This system—where police can seize property with limited judicial oversight and retain it for their own use—has led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses,” Thomas declared.
Furthermore, he wrote, the Supreme Court’s previous rulings on the matter are starkly at odds with the Constitution, which “presumably would require the Court to align its distinct doctrine governing civil forfeiture with its doctrines governing other forms of punitive state action and property deprivation.” Those other doctrines, Thomas noted, impose significant checks on the government, such as heightened standards of proof, various procedural protections, and the right to a trial by jury. Civil asset forfeiture proceedings, by contrast, offer no such constitutional safeguards for the rights of person or property.
This is a good step. Let’s hope the right case gets to the Supreme Court so this can be properly debated at that level.
I’ve been busy on other projects. Still a lot of speculation out there regarding the directions that this administration will take… talk of eliminating the ONDCP, Spicer’s comments about enforcing federal laws against states that legalize marijuana, yet seeming support for state medical laws, etc.
The key value that we have is that for years now, we have worked across party lines and found ways to make drug policy reform attractive regardless of party affiliation. We found allies in forfeiture reform and prison reform in conservative camps and allies for leaving states alone in liberal camps. This makes it harder for someone to simply step in and ignorantly try to undo our efforts – they’ll find opposition from a variety of sides.
We need to keep up the effort, particularly in finding allies in seemingly unlikely places.
“Mr. President, on asset forfeiture,” Sheriff Eavenson said, in an exchange that was observed by reporters and filmed, “we’ve got a state senator in Texas that was talking about introducing legislation to require conviction before we can receive that forfeiture money, and I told him that the cartel would build a monument to him in Mexico if he could get that legislation passed.”
“Can you believe that?” Mr. Trump responded, then added, “Who’s the state senator?”
Sheriff Eavenson did not reply. “Do you want to give his name?” Mr. Trump said. “We’ll destroy his career.” Laughter then broke out.
So, President Trump has announced his nominee for the bench: Judge Neil M. Gorsuch.
A lot can happen between announcement and confirmation, so obviously nothing is certain yet, but it’s worth taking a look.
There are a lot of potential problems with this nominee, but there are also some potential bright spots (all from a surface and cursory reading of his Wikipedia entry).
He tends to favor state power over federal power, which is a bonus in this particular phase of drug policy reform. Additionally, he has written against judicial activism – in particular the notion of using the courts as a way to change culture in a way to serve society best, when that should be done at the ballot box. That also seems positive considering most drug policy reform has been happening at the ballot box and in the states. Additionally, he has written against the notion of federal agencies interpreting ambiguous laws instead of the courts.
In criminal law, he understands the importance of mens rea (the idea that the defendant knows that they are breaking a law), something which has been noticeably disappearing from a lot of drug laws.
Again, it’s important to note that Supreme Court rulings that affect drug policy cannot be neatly categorized as right vs. left, but rather tend to focus on more complicated issue of state vs. federal power, individual freedom, the power of federal agencies, etc.
The time has come for me to step aside as executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
This is just about the toughest decision I’ve ever made but it feels like the right time for me personally and also for DPA. It’s almost twenty-three years since I started The Lindesmith Center and approaching seventeen years since we merged with the Drug Policy Foundation to create DPA. We’ve grown from little more than an idea into a remarkable advocacy organization that has built, led and defined a new political and cultural movement.
Transitions like this are never easy but I am confident that DPA will continue to flourish. Our finances are strong and our donor base more diversified than ever before, with new sources of potential funding rapidly emerging. The talent, experience and commitment of staff and board are extraordinary. Our mission and vision are as relevant today as when we started, even as our many victories present new challenges and opportunities. […]
End of an era. I’ve been working in drug policy for quite some time now, and Ethan was always head of the DPA. I’ve had the good fortune to meet him and work with him a few times, and always enjoyed our interactions.
Tom Angell has been consistently ahead of the pack on all things related to marijuana news and politics – he’s had a great connection with lawmakers as well. Now he has a new email newsletter, currently titled “Generic Marijuana Newsletter.”
You can view it here and, if you wish, hit subscribe in the upper left corner (requires confirming a valid email address).
Obviously, everyone’s thinking and talking about what’s going to happen with drug policy with President Trump. It appears to me, that it’s going to take a bit of time to know for sure – things are so chaotic right now, with a lot of upheaval.
Of course, this is all up for change. If Trump’s attorney general appointee, Senator Jeff Sessions, is appointed, he could direct the DEA to take a more hardline stance. And if President Trump himself decides to take a more hardline stance, that would also impact how the DEA operates when it comes to federal marijuana policy. To be clear, neither Sessions nor Trump have indicated as much.
There’s been a lot of talk about “The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids,” a report by the National Academy of Sciences that reviewed 10,000 scientific abstracts to actually get some consensus on the science of marijuana rather than the usual cherry-picking to prove a point. Coverage in Forbes.
Obama didn’t seriously focus on pardons and commutations until 2014, two years into his second term. But, on Thursday, his last full day in office, Obama announced 330 more commutations, bringing his total number of clemencies to 1,715. He has granted commutations to more people than the last 12 presidents combined, more than 500 of them to inmates with life sentences.
“By restoring proportionality to unnecessarily long drug sentences, this administration has made a lasting impact on our criminal justice system,” said Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates. “With 1,715 commutations in total, this undertaking was as enormous as it was unprecedented.”
I’m one of those who criticized President Obama for his lack of pardons and commutations in his first term, so I must say I’m pleased to be able to report this.
This is an overdue recognition of the injustices that have been served by the drug war.
Executive Editor Tom Julia interviewed Mike Chapman, Richard Fiano, Derek Maltz and Steve Murphy for 90 minutes about federal drug policy and how the Trump Administration can better combat the dual — and increasingly linked — threats of illicit drug trafficking and the funding of international terrorism. […]
Asked what advice they would give president-elect Trump to use DEA’s strengths more effectively, Maltz and others urged a better understanding of how profits from the illicit drug trade are being used to fund terrorist groups.
“If you understand the link and how too break it, you can target your resources more effectively to fight both terrorism and drug trafficking,” said Maltz.