REAL PROPERTY FORFEITURE IN MARIJUANA GROW CASES
The only parties that can legally grow marijuana in Washington are: (1) persons or businesses with appropriate licensing; and (2) certified medical users. Recreational users of pot cannot grow their own marijuana under Washington law. If they choose to do so, most of us know that they will face possible drug crime charges. But, many of us do not know that any real property associated with growing activities could be seized, or forfeited, by the State.
WHO CAN GROW MARIJUANA IN WASHINGTON
In 2012, Washington passed initiative 502, which legalized non-medical, recreational use of marijuana by persons aged 21 years or older. But the initiative did not legalize the growing of marijuana by recreational users of the drug. Under Washington law, the only parties that can legally grow marijuana in the State are:
- Persons or businesses with appropriate licensing; and
- Certified medical users of marijuana.
If a non-licensed and a non-medically authorized marijuana user grows the drug, he will face criminal drug charges – since the activity is a violation of Washington law. These charges could include allegations of:
Please note, though, that in addition to criminal drug charges, the state may try to seize, or forfeit, any real property associated with the illegal growing of marijuana.
WHAT IS FORFEITURE?
A “forfeiture” is where a Washington State governmental agency seizes and retains property under criminal or civil laws. The property that is seized is property the agency believes has either been used in the commission of a crime or represents the proceeds of a crime. Property that is often forfeited under the law includes:
- Money or other proceeds from illegal activity (including cash and money in bank accounts);
- Tools used in the commission of certain crimes (e.g., a car); and
- Real property (land and homes) used in the commission of certain crimes.
Forfeiture laws exist under both Washington State law and federal law. These laws set forth strict procedures and requirements that an agency must meet before it can legally take ownership of a person’s property.
WHAT ARE WASHINGTON’S CIVIL FORFEITURE LAWS?
The State of Washington may attempt to seize property connected to illegal activity in a civil proceeding. If you’re the owner of such property, it’s imperative that you understand how this seizure may occur. Civil forfeiture actions proceed, not against the owner of the property, but against the property itself (e.g., a home where a recreational user of put grows marijuana).
For the State to legally seize the property, it must prove by a “preponderance of the evidence” that the property was associated with criminal activity. “Preponderance of the evidence” is a specific legal test and it’s generally met if the State can show that the property was more likely than not associated with a crime.
If the State is successful in its proof, then attention is placed on the owner of the property. The owner may attempt to recover his property by showing that he had nothing to do with the criminal activity involved in the case. Please note that governmental agencies in Washington can initiate civil forfeiture proceedings even if no criminal charges have been filed.
At Black Law, our forfeiture lawyers can help you protect and retain your real property in a marijuana grow case. These attorneys have over twenty years of combined experience representing and guiding clients through forfeiture cases. They are passionate and tireless in their efforts. Our firm represents clients in Seattle and throughout other Washington communities. Contact our Seattle criminal/forfeiture lawyers today and get the representation you deserve.
As with federal civil forfeiture cases, the United States Supreme Court has identified three categories of property that are subject to forfeiture. These include:
- Contraband – property for which it’s a crime to own (e.g., illegal drugs)
- Proceeds from illegal activity – essentially property that results from, or can be traced back to illegal activity
- Tools used in commission of a crime – property used to commit a crime