Drug Law

DEA to Seize Mo. Campground as Forfeiture for Drug Use

| by NORML

(Riverfront Times) Carrie Goebel went to sleep this Halloween in her own version of paradise. She woke up to a nightmare.

The 46-year-old artist from Warrenton, Missouri, spent the last weekend in October camping out at Camp Zoe’s Spookstock music festival. “It was a good time, the weather was great, there were lots of good costumes,” she recalls. “Little kids were trick-or-treating from campsite to campsite. It was a good time. It was a great weekend.”

But on the morning of Monday, November 1, Goebel and several hundred other Spookstock holdovers awoke to find a small army of law enforcement officers storming the campground.

“I was making coffee and I look over and there was a pickup truck full of police officers and in the back was men in camouflage,” Goebel says. “They were going from tent to tent telling people to get out. There was a hazmat team and police cars from Salem and Rolla. I wasn’t there when the dogs came, but they wrote down my driver’s license info in a notebook and then filmed me leaving. I didn’t know what to do. I felt like I was being terrorized.”

Only later did Goebel learn that the raid was the culmination of a four-year-long investigation by the DEA and the Missouri State Highway Patrol into alleged drug use and sales by Camp Zoe concertgoers. No one — including Camp Zoe owner Jimmy Tebeau — has been charged with a crime, but the eastern Missouri U.S. Attorney’s Office is attempting to confiscate the 352-acre property using a controversial process called asset forfeiture.

Representing Tebeau is NORML Board of Directors member Dan Viets, whom we hope to book on our NORML SHOW LIVE shortly to discuss the case.

Camp Zoe hosts other festivals aside from Spookstock, including the popular Schwagstock.  Other regional festivals, like Bonnaroo, could also be targeted by authorities who believe there’s illegal drug activity going on (read: young people smoking pot.)  Nobody in the Camp Zoe ownership has been charged with any crime, but they don’t have to be.  Asset forfeiture allows the government to charge the property with the crime of being acquired with dirty money or supporting the commission of crimes.  The property is considered guilty until the owner can prove it innocent in court.  Of course, sometimes the property seized and charged with a crime is the money the owner would have to use to hire an attorney to prove the money was innocent.

Yes.  Right here in the good ol’ USA.  Guilty until proven innocent.  Inanimate objects that commit crimes.  Innocent (or at least, uncharged) citizens forced to defend their property from the government.  Does your head hurt yet?

The doctrine of asset forfeiture dates back to English common law and was justified by our government as just desserts for the drug kingpins we catch.  Take that, you drug lord, we’ll snatch away the mansions and sports cars and jewelry you purchased with your illegal drug dealing!

In the real world, however, asset forfeiture is used by government to seize property for profit.  Almost every law enforcement agency has a budget line for income they expect to receive from forfeiture.  It is also used to bankrupt and intimidate people the government doesn’t like (see: Bernie Ellis) and shut down those crazy jam band hippie festivals, dagnabbit!

And it is only profitable through the prohibition of marijuana.

See, not many people do other illegal drugs.  Of the 21.8 million Americans who will use illegal drugs (or legal drugs illegally, like OxyContin) this month, 16.7 million are using marijuana.  Some people may be using more than one drug, so you can’t just subtract to come up with a number for the non-marijuana users.  However, when you note that 7 million were using legal drugs illegally, you’re then left with just 1.6 million cocaine users, 1.3 million hallucinogen users, 600,000 inhalant users, and only 200,000 heroin users this month.  Police need marijuana to remain illegal because there just aren’t enough seizure targets among the 3 million or so other illegal drug users.