When voters in Colorado and Washington state approved legalizing marijuana in 2012, those votes undermined an abusive—and profitable—police practice: civil forfeiture. Unlike with criminal forfeiture, undercivil forfeiture people do not have to be convicted of or even charged with a crime to permanently lose their cash, cars, and other property. Police can then auction off that seized property and use the proceeds to fund themselves. In the 42 states that allow police departments to profit from forfeiture, that cash flow has funded both themilitarization of police and allowed law enforcement to make ridiculous purchases, including a margarita machine, a Hawaiian vacation, and a Dodge Viper.
In Colorado and Washington, the federal government processed more than $36 million worth of cash and other property in civil and criminal marijuana forfeitures between 2002 and 2012. Pursuing cannabis cases earned local law enforcement in Washington an additional $6 million to $9 million in forfeiture revenue since 2008. Nationwide, the Wall Street Journal reported the federal government scored $1 billion in forfeiture from marijuana cases over the past decade.