Pubdate: Wed, 10 Jul 2013
Source: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ)
Copyright: 2013 The Arizona Republic
Author: Yvonne Wingett Sanchez


Yuma Sheriff Ordered to Give Marijuana Back

The Arizona Supreme Court has declined to consider a high-profile 
lawsuit over whether police can seize medical marijuana from patients 
since possession of marijuana still violates federal drug laws.

The court's Monday decision upholds an Arizona Court of Appeals 
ruling that required the Yuma County Sheriff's Office to give back 
marijuana officers seized from a California woman who legally 
possessed the drug under California law. Bill Kerekes, chief civil 
deputy for the Yuma County Attorney's Office, told on Tuesday his 
agency will petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

The Arizona Court of Appeals in January ruled that the Yuma County 
Sheriff's Office must return marijuana to Valerie Okun, who had 
permission to use the drug for medical purposes.

Okun was stopped in 2011at 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 21 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 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 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 at the time.

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

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, meanwhile, is appealing a 
Maricopa County Superior Court's ruling that federal drug laws do not 
pre-empt the state's medical-marijuana law. The Court of Appeals is 
expected to hear arguments on that case this year.

Montgomery, who has made fighting the medical-marijuana law a 
signature issue, said it was "obviously difficult to assess" why the 
state Supreme Court thought the appellate court's decision on the 
Okun case "was appropriate."

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 1/2 ounces every two weeks. 
About 37,600 people have permission to use medical marijuana in Arizona.
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