On the Newsstand: What Happens to Seized Drug Money?


As part of the War on Drugs US federal and local authorities seize cash made from drug trafficking. The practice takes away an incentive for smuggling, and gives the agents an incentive to catch traffickers. The guideline for how that money can be spent, according to most local laws, is the vague standard of "for law-enforcement purposes."

This week's Economist itemized what can be considered law enforcement for spending purposes. Seized assets have been used for the following:

  • One Texas county used it on a margarita machine.
  • A Texas district attorney took his whole staff to Hawaii for a training seminar.
  • Another Texan DA spent thousands of dollars on his re-election campaign.
  • In Indiana money goes to a general school fund. (A good idea.)
  • A Georgia sheriff bought a $90,000 sports car, used to advertise an anti-drug program. (Don't tell the kids drugs paid for the car!)

Unfortunately, many state laws give authorities wide discretion to seize assets even without any verdict. And with such an incentive to get the restriction-free money, sometimes they get it wrong. Does it matter to you what happens to drug money?

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