Michigan police are reportedly cracking down on cancer patients, whom they claim are growing more marijuana plants than have been permitted by the state. But, instead of arresting them, cops are reportedly seizing their possessions, money, homes, and even items like leaf blowers.
Thomas Williams, 72, was reportedly permitted by the state to have 12 marijuana plants. But when police discovered he had a few unplanted seedlings in his home that he says he kept in case the other plants died, they didn't arrest him — they seized his car, cell phone, TV, shotgun and $11,000 in cash, reports Reason.com. Police are also reportedly trying to take his house away from him.
Williams is just one victim of what the Detroit Free Press has called the police's seizure of more than $24 million in assets under asset forfeiture laws. He is also one of several people who weren't charged with a crime, but who were forced to give up their property anyway.
"I want to ask them, 'Why? Why me?' I gave them no reason to do this to me," Williams told the Detroit Free Press. The senior reportedly suffers from glaucoma, a damaged disc in his back, and a lung disorder called COPD. "I'm out here minding my own business, and just wanted to be left alone."
Michigan's Civil Asset Forfeiture laws allow police to seize property if they suspect a crime has been committed, even if there isn't enough evidence to press charges against them. The state has been reportedly ranked one of the worst offenders of abuse of this law and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has announced plans to tighten the forfeiture laws.
"It's straight up theft," said Williams' attorney, Dan Grow. "The forfeiture penalty does not match the crime. It's absurd. They grow an extra plant and suddenly they're subjected to forfeiture. A lot of my practice is made up of these kinds of cases — middle-aged, middle-income people who have never been in trouble before. It's all about the money."
A 69-year-old General Motors retiree and cancer patient named Ed Boyke reportedly obtained permits to grow marijuana for himself and two other patients, but police say they raided his home and found he was 12 plants over his legal limit of 36 plants. They reportedly seized his car, TV, two lawn mowers, a leaf blower, a dehumidifier, an air compressor and $62 in cash.
Boyke wasn't charged with a crime, but was reportedly told to give police $5,000 in cash or they would put a lien on his house. He says he drove to his credit union and took out the money for them because he was scared of what they might do.
Civil forfeiture has come under fire by the public, with prominent journalism outlets such as the Washington Post, the New Yorker, and the New York Times highlighting the many faults of the system. Comedian John Oliver even lampooned the controversial law in a popular October 2014 segment.
Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue, director of the Michigan State Police, reportedly defended the law.
"Michigan's asset forfeiture program saves taxpayers money and deprives drug criminals of cash and property," Etue reportedly wrote in her last annual forfeiture report. "Michigan's law enforcement community has done an outstanding job of stripping drug dealers of illicit gain and utilizing those proceeds to expand and enhance drug enforcement efforts to protect our citizens."