On Monday night, 34-year-old Grover Crosslin was shot dead by an FBI agent on his Vandalia, Mich. property. Crosslin had been charged with growing marijuana, felony possession of a firearm and maintaining a drug house. He was also the owner of Rainbow Farm, a campground that had become the home of peaceful gatherings and fundraisers for marijuana decriminalization initiatives and hemp-related causes. By all accounts, he was a kind man, whom friends describe as having “a heart of gold.”

Paul Wong
Josh Wickerham

So what caused an otherwise peaceful man to take matters into his own hands and find himself in a four-day standoff with the feds that left four buildings on his property burned and he and a good friend dead?

A number of incidents may have driven Crosslin to act as he did. According to his attorney, after being charged with marijuana violations, he was upset that his foster son had been taken away. Added to this, court rulings had prevented Crosslin from holding his annual festivals at Rainbow Farm because of alleged drug use. Crosslin, a staunch Libertarian, also believed that he had the right to do what he wanted on his own property, given it does not harm others. But his decision to use marijuana was not a choice he could legally make.

So, last Friday, knowing that his property would soon be seized and he would lose everything under civil property forfeiture laws, Crosslin skipped out on his $150,000 bail hearing and began torching his property. Authorities also allege that shots were fired at a local news helicopter that same day, as well as an unmarked police plane on Saturday. Both crafts landed without incident. Four days later, Crosslin was dead, with his friend falling the day after.

In my mind, Crosslin”s actions in resisting drug forfeiture laws were entirely justified on the simple grounds that property seizure amounts to institutionalized stealing. In theory, forfeiture laws are the government”s attempt to reclaim monies earned through illegal activities, though the system is easily abused. And the list of abuses is extensive.

In his book, “A License to Steal,” Leonard Levy chronicles the abuse of this law, including a case in Michigan when a man was caught with his pants down being serviced by a prostitute. He jointly owned the car with his wife, though the wife”s insistence that the state had no right to take the car because she had no knowledge or involvement with the prostitute held no legal water.

Such practices have a long history, though laws allowing the seizure of property because of charges stemming from illegal drug trade in the U.S. were only instituted by Congress in 1978. In 1984 real property (like houses, land, computers, etc.) was included in all forfeiture laws on any applicable charge. It doesn”t matter if a person is found guilty or not, charges alone can justify the permanent seizure of property. This unjust state of affairs becomes even more loathsome when we throw marijuana laws into the mix. Already our prisons are filled with people who smoke a harmless plant for a variety of medical and personal reasons. Now there is yet another martyr from the ranks.

Crosslin is on par with California medical marijuana activist Peter McWilliams, who last year died choking on his own vomit because he was denied the marijuana that helped him keep his potent cocktail of AIDS and cancer drugs down. It”s tragic that Crosslin, in the face of losing everything for something he believed in, felt no other choice but to go out in a blaze of glory.

With the Supreme Court”s recent decision to deny any medical or personal legitimacy to cannabis, the only opportunity is to take matters into our own hands. The only ray of sunshine for Michigan in this long, unnecessary War on Drugs is the Personal Responsibility Amendment, a new citizen-led initiative in the signature-collecting stage. By signing this initiative, registered voters can give Michigan the right to vote on property seizure, the right to grow industrial hemp, the decriminalization of medical marijuana and the personal use of cannabis. If passed, the initiative would end property forfeiture madness by pooling any resources from the non-cannabis-related-sale of seized property into drug education and treatment instead of law enforcement.

Before the tragic outcome of this standoff, Crosslin”s father said, “This is about property rights It”s enough to cause a war.”

It looks like it already has. Michigan has a new martyr in the Draconian War on Drugs. It is up to us, Michigan, to show the world that we will not tolerate another death in the war to eradicate this plant. Had the Personal Responsibility Amendment been in place, this tragic death would have been avoided.

Visit www.prayes.com for more information.

Josh Wickerham can be reached via e-mail at jwickerh@umich.edu.

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