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Policing For Profit: The Illegal Seizure Of Marijuana Assets

“Between 1989 and 2010 an estimated 12.6 billion dollars was seized by US attorneys in asset forfeiture cases, the growth rate of seizures during that time was nearly a 20% increase every single year.” – Ed Burns, Former Homicide & Narcotics Police Detective

Many would find it hard to believe that despite the ever-growing percentage of Americans that feel marijuana should no longer be illegal, or at the very least no longer a focus, the annual number of marijuana arrests actually increased last year. According to the Union Crime Report released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation:

“Marijuana possession busts comprised 37.36% of all reported drug arrests in the U.S. in 2016, and cannabis sales and manufacturing arrests accounted for another 4.18% of the total. Added together, marijuana arrests made up 41.54% of the 1,572,579 drug busts in the country last year. That means, based on an extrapolation, that police arrested people for cannabis 653,249 times in the U.S. in 2016. That averages out to about one marijuana arrest every 48 seconds. According to the same calculation, there were 643,121 U.S. cannabis arrests in 2015. So arrests for marijuana are on the rise, even as more states legalize it.”

To reiterate: there were a staggering 653,249 arrests made for marijuana offenses in 2016, up from 643,121 in 2015; more than 88% were for simple possession. On average, one person was arrested for a marijuana-related offense in the U.S. approximately every 48 seconds.

“These numbers refute the myth that nobody actually gets arrested for using marijuana. It’s hard to imagine why more people were arrested for marijuana possession when fewer people than ever believe it should be a crime. Law enforcement officials should not be wasting their time and resources arresting and prosecuting adults for using marijuana.” – Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project

marijuanaWhile law enforcement was busy making nearly three-quarters of a million marijuana arrests, more than 35% of the nation’s murders went unsolved, the clearance rate for rape was less than 40%, and robbery and property crimes were below 30%. This means that more than half of all thieves and rapists in this country essentially got away and are still roaming the streets ready to get away with it again. In the government’s fervor to arrest all those in possession of a small amount of cannabis, in order to keep the streets safe from that obvious detriment to society, they decided to let the little things fall by the wayside: Robbery, Murder and Rape. 

The first question that should come to the mind of any critical thinker is: What would motivate a police force to allow thieves, murderers and rapists to get away, and instead focus their finite resources on citizens who have a small bag of plant parts stuffed into their sock? Sadly the answer is always money. One would hope that those charged with the increasingly important task of upholding public safety could put their financial gain and ambition on the back-burner, alas the numbers tell a different story.

There’s a deal between the feds and the state and that’s asset seizures. They call it an equitable sharing program where they encourage local law enforcement to seize items that may be involved in criminal activity, they do an 80/20 split without even getting a conviction, and then they keep the bulk of the money or the assets seized. There is incentive to produce for the state, an incentive to move forward on asset seizures just to make a profit. It is then on the individual to fight through the court system to get back their possessions that they took away, that they had no right taking in the first place.” – Stephen Downing, Former LAPD Deputy Chief


The story of a Hawaiian resident, named Michael Ruggles, is a horrifying example of the kind of profiteering and outright illegal actions that are all too often seen in regard to this immensely beneficial plant that is increasingly infringing on the profits of some major government-backed industries.

In 2015 Ruggles was raided and arrested for legally operating the Alternative Pain Management Pu`uhonua’s Collective out of his home. Ruggles is an activist and medical cannabis patient. He opened this collective in order to provide members a means of disposal for their excess medical cannabis via transfer to other members who are also authorized to medicinally use marijuana. This is precisely how a “collective” is meant to operate and does so within the boundaries of Hawaii State law.

marijuanaRuggles was initially charged with 30 violations for allegedly operating an “unauthorized dispensary” even though his location was a collective in every sense of the word. By claiming that he was operating an illegal dispensary, and not the legally sanctioned collective that it was, police officials were able to raid his home and seize just about anything they thought would expand their coffers. As is becoming the norm in these situations, no property receipt was left by the police for the seized items, despite the law clearly stating that a voucher or receipt must be left for all items that are seized. After confiscating all the medical cannabis being cultivated on the property that was registered to multiple legitimate patients and caregivers, police seized several collective member’s excess medical cannabis in its various forms. Officials then seized business and tax records, members’ files containing protected health information, electronic devices, fine jewelry, professional music recording gear, other property resident’s firearms, his daughter’s college textbook, a greeting card containing a personal message and some food. It would seem that all the riffling through Ruggles’ personal items worked them up quite an appetite.

The raid was based on an undercover police officer who presented a falsified doctor’s written certification that stated he was in the process of obtaining a medical marijuana card and was allowed to be processed as a member. Under HRS 329 Medical Use of Marijuana Laws, conditions of use specified that patients must have a written certification under a physician to use medical cannabis and does not require the patient to register with the Department of Health and Department of Safety as a condition of use. It was under this premise, that the undercover officer was allowed to acquire medical cannabis according to a collective volunteer and member. These officers essentially forged a doctor’s note that, if real, would have made the transaction legitimate in the eyes of the collective and Hawaii State law. The only law broken was that of the officers who forged a legal document to trick innocent civilians.

The use of deception to lure a person into unknowingly breaking the law, when they otherwise would not have, is called entrapment. This is illegal, yet does not stop some law enforcement from using this tactic to meet their marijuana quota. This was the case with the autistic son of Doug and Catherine Snodgrass of Temecula, California who was pressured into seeking out and buying a half joint from a homeless man in a desperate attempt to make friends. He was hounded by the undercover police officer until he gave in. This was a lonely kid who thought he had made a friend and was pressured into doing something he never marijuanawould have done otherwise. This type of collusion and abuse of power is unconscionable and should have dire consequences.

These questionable operations were conducted using tax payer’s money, not to topple some massive drug cartel, but to arrest regular citizens like Michael and his in-home collective. These are not back-alley drug dealers. These are not even criminals. As with Mr. Ruggles, these are average American people seeking medication for their ailments within the law, and they are being used by police officials to muster up funds for their department.

There are not many issues on which one can say honestly that “most Americans agree,” yet when it comes to the issue of marijuana, Americans know what they want, to an unprecedented degree. A poll conducted in 2017 shows that 64% of Americans now feel that cannabis should be legalized. It’s the groups still profiting from the prohibition of a substance with unrivaled societal benefits that are maintaining its illegality. The motivation to maintain the status quo is quite clear. It is also painfully clear that the Federal Government will continue to neglect their duties by not enacting the majority will. Action must be taken on a local level. Change must begin within the people and rise back up to the top as the social revolution truly begins to materialize.

Ryan Cristián
"Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see." - John Lennon Driven by a desire for accuracy, chef and independent news stalwart Ryan Cristián has a passion for the Truth. As a recent recipient of the Serena Shim Award For Uncompromising Integrity In Journalism, he understands that Americans want their news to be transparent, devoid of the opulence frothed out by today's corporate media. A cultured and insightful man with a worldly sense, Ryan's unjaded approach offers common sense to the individual racked by the ambiguous news cycle - a vicious and manipulative merry-go-round that keeps trenchant minds at a manageable distance from the truth. Avid writer & editor by day, Truth seeker by night, Ryan's reality defines what it means to be current.

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