Pubdate: Fri, 11 Jan 2013
Source: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ)
Copyright: 2013 The Arizona Republic
Author: Yvonne Wingett Sanchez
Page: B1


Court: Yuma Official Must Give Back Medical Marijuana Seized in 2011

The Arizona Court of Appeals has ruled that the Yuma County Sheriff's 
Office must give back marijuana that was seized from a California 
woman who had permission to use the drug for medical purposes.

Valerie Okun was stopped in 2011 at a Border Patrol checkpoint near 
Yuma. Authorities seized marijuana and other contraband from her car. 
She was cited for violating Arizona drug laws and the case was turned 
over to Yuma County officials. The charges were dismissed after she 
showed she was authorized to possess marijuana under California law.

The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act honors other states' 
medical-marijuana cards and allows users to possess up to 2.5 ounces 
of the drug.

After the charges were dropped, Okun asked sheriff's officials to 
return her marijuana, and the Superior Court granted her request. But 
the Yuma County sheriff argued that he could not return the pot 
because doing so may violate the federal Controlled Substances Act, 
which makes possession, sale or use of marijuana a crime.

The appellate court affirmed Thursday the Superior Court's ruling and 
required the sheriff to return the marijuana to Okun, saying it was 
not subject to forfeiture under state law.

"Moreover, the Sheriff is immune from prosecution under the federal 
law for acts taken in compliance with a court order," the three-judge 
panel wrote.

The appellate court would not consider the state's argument that the 
state's medical-marijuana law is pre-empted by federal law.

"We do not question the general proposition that when federal law 
actually conflicts with state law, federal law controls," the opinion said.

A spokesman for the Yuma County Sheriff's Office said officials are 
reviewing the opinion.

Voters in 2010 passed the medical-marijuana measure to allow people 
with certain debilitating medical conditions - including chronic 
pain, cancer and muscle spasms - to use marijuana. They must obtain a 
recommendation from a physician and register with the state 
Department of Health Services, which oversees the program and issues 
identification cards to qualified patients and caregivers.

Patients are limited to purchasing 2.5 ounces every two weeks. More 
than 33,000 people have permission to use medical marijuana in Arizona.
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