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The Justice Department is finally making it harder for police to seize property

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Today, Attorney General Eric Holder took a major step towards dismantling the drug war. As reported by The Washington Post, Holder is making major changes to the federal asset seizure program, barring federal sanction of local seizures of a suspect's property unless it poses an immediate risk to public safety. Police can still seize guns and explosives, but the widespread seizure of cash and vehicles is no longer licensed by federal law, cutting off a legal avenue that has flooded billion of dollars into state and local police departments since 2008. Some local seizures will still be allowed under state and local laws, but the federal Equitable Sharing program, by far the most generous and simplest forfeiture path, will now be officially closed.

Asset forfeiture has been a controversial aspect of the drug war, allowing property be seized without a search warrant and forcing suspects to prove their innocence in order to retrieve it. The system led to perverse incentives for many police departments, including a Florida town of less than 3,000 people that pulled in millions of dollars a year by luring in out-of-state drug buyers for phony deals. A Washington Post investigation in September found police had made cash seizures of more than $2 billion since 2001.

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