Wally Kowalski, an engineer living in a farmhouse in rural southwest Michigan, came home one day last September to find his property swarming with cops. They told him that they had spotted his marijuana plants from a helicopter. Kowalski has a license to grow and distribute medical pot to several low-income people who depend on the drug. He grows the plants in a garden area enclosed by a barbed wire fence.
But whether or not Kowalski had a legal right to grow mattered little to the state police, who seized his power generator—even though it had nothing to do with his marijuana plants—and some expensive equipment. They also destroyed the plants.
Kowalski told the Mackinac Center for Public Policy that they grabbed anything likely to be sold at a police auction. He said they were positively giddy after searching his house and finding his financial papers:
“When they found my bank accounts here in my office, they let out a yell. They said, ‘Here’s the bank accounts, we got him.’ It’s like the happiest thing for them, to find my bank accounts.”
The police froze his accounts, rendering him unable to make payments on his student loans or other bills. And he could no longer complete the immigration process for his wife, a resident of Africa.
The authorities haven’t charged Kowalski with a crime. They didn’t even confiscate his marijuana license—probably because it has no auction value. He wishes they would—at least then he could defend himself in court, in front of a judge or jury. As things stand, he’s unsure what he’s supposed to do to convince the police to give him back his property.
After the Mackinac Center drew publicity to the case, the state unfroze Kowalski’s assets. But his property is still in police custody.
Thomas Williams, another southwest Michigan resident, suffered a similar ordeal. His medical marijuana activities prompted police to ransack his property while they left him handcuffed for 10 hours. The cops took his car, phone, TV, and cash. Afterward, he had no means of getting to the grocery store or even contacting another human being for days. Like Kowalski, he hasn’t been charged with a crime.
That was over a year ago. The police still have his stuff.
The Mackinac Center interviewed both men for a video spotlighting the abuses of police forfeiture. Watch that below. [Edit: The video has been fixed and will now play properly.] Read more from Reason on the subject here.
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