Are Oregon Sheriffs Concerned About Pot Use or Losing Money?

This year the only serious financial opposition to the marijuana legalization initiative in Oregon is coming from the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association which so far has donated $145,000 against it and the Oregon Narcotics Enforcement Association which contributed $20,000 against it. This is not too surprising given that besides illegal drug dealers, almost no other group financially benefits more from marijuana prohibition than local law enforcement agencies.

The reason is our nation’s obscene asset forfeiture laws. These laws allow law enforcement agencies to take money and property that they believe was involved in a crime, most often drug crimes, and keep much of it to spend at their discretion. Individuals don’t even need to be convicted of a crime to lose their property. Under civil asset forfeiture the government brings proceedings against the property, not its owner. This makes proving “guilt” much easier, so they get to keep the property.

Last year in Oregon over $2.3 million in cash was collected by law enforcement agencies thanks to civil and criminal asset forfeitures. This is according to the report from the Asset Forfeiture Oversight Advisory Committee to the Oregon Legislature. Over 90 percent of seizure cases were for controlled substance violations, of which roughly two fifths involved marijuana.

After all costs and distributions, local enforcement agencies  and district attorneys in Oregon were left with hundreds of thousands in proceeds last year, according to the report. One of the largest beneficiaries was the Lane County Sheriff’s Office, which registered $106,890 in proceeds, but several other Sheriff departments also received significant windfalls.

Racial disparities in marijuana possession arrest rates from ACLU

This is the same Lane County which according to ACLU of Oregon was responsible for more marijuana possession arrests and citations in 2010 than any other county in the state, despite being only the fourth most populous. It had 16.72 percent of marijuana possession arrest/citations, but only 9.06 percent of the population. In addition, its racial disparity in arrests was also the worst among heavily populated counties in the state with blacks being 3.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites.

Ironically, the anti-legalization campaign the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association is bankrolling has focused on trying to scare voters about the possibility of “Big Marijuana.” Implicitly their argument is that the possibility of extra financial gain will inherently make people behave in immoral and socially destructive ways. I wonder if the Oregon Sheriffs’ Association is speaking from personal experience on this.
Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy
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