Pubdate: Mon, 04 Jan 2016
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2016 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: Joseph I. Cassilly
Note: Joseph I. Cassilly is state's attorney for Harford County


State lawmakers, concerned that street level drug dealers will be 
unable to replace the heroin, crack cocaine and other poisons that 
the police seize when they arrest the dealers, will likely vote on 
the first day of the session on a bill requiring the police to return 
up to $300 to the dealers.

As absurd as that sentence sounds during the current epidemic of 
heroin deaths and overdoses, that is exactly what a vote to override 
Gov. Larry Hogan's veto of Senate Bill 528 changes to the state's 
forfeiture laws will do.

Street level drug dealers sell drugs to users in amounts costing from 
$10 to $100. The drug world not being one of trust, most dealers are 
only given small quantities to sell. Once they take the proceeds of 
those sales to their suppliers, they get more to sell. Dealers may 
bring in several thousand dollars a day, but to avoid being robbed 
they don't keep more than a few hundred on them. As a result, a 
requirement that police return to dealers $300 from the money seized 
at the time of arrest will in most cases mean that street dealers' 
assets are immune from seizure.

During the crack cocaine devastation of the1980s, the legislature 
adopted a comprehensive statute to let law enforcement seize the 
money the dealer would use to obtain a new supply and to deprive them 
of the incentive to deal drugs.

This has been effective over the past 25 years to cut into the 
working capital of the illegal drug trade and slow down how quickly 
arrested drug dealers are able to return to business. But now in this 
age of "the cops are the bad guys and the bad guys are the victims," 
a determined group of legislators got a bill passed last session to 
make sure that the poor drug dealers will get back up to $300 of the 
money the police find on them. This is a major step toward legalizing 
drug dealing.

To answer concerns for those who might be wrongfully arrested for 
drug dealing, police and prosecutors have crafted new legislation to 
create an administrative review process to allow for a review of the 
seizing officer's decision and return of the property.

The legislature should be willing to work with law enforcement on a 
commonsense compromise.

The second portion of the vetoed bill deals with restricting 
Maryland's police from acting on information received from other 
state or federal law enforcement agencies to intercept drug money.

So if DEA agents in New York or New Jersey alert Maryland troopers to 
intercept a car carrying $250,000 in drug proceeds, or if North 
Carolina police give Maryland troopers a description of some buyers 
with $50,000 to buy heroin and cocaine, this new law would prevent 
those Maryland troopers from seizing the money and turning over the 
money to federal authorities. Although the United States attorney 
general has strict procedures for when these proceeds can be turned 
over to the feds, this absurd law would require Maryland law 
enforcement to return the money to the drug dealers; fortunately, it 
does not require the police to apologize.

The reasons for these changes to a law that has worked for 25 years 
have to do with the legislators having read press reports of problems 
in other states whose laws differ from Maryland. It does not matter 
to the legislature that much of the money forfeited to law 
enforcement over this time has gone to drug abuse prevention 
education, enabled the police to acquire up-to-date technology and 
paid for training.

In Harford County drug dealers' money has helped create a Child 
Advocacy Center, fund training programs for law enforcement and first 
responders through the community college, fund the filming of a video 
for the schools to improve school attendance, train K-9 dogs, etc.

Fortunately for the citizens of Maryland plagued by the devastation 
of drug addiction, violent neighborhoods and drug funded gangs, 
Governor Hogan vetoed the bill that threatens to remove this weapon 
from law enforcement's arsenal.

Legislators who pretend to want to deal with the scourge of heroin 
are anxious to override the veto. The citizens need to contact their 
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom