Pubdate: Tue, 09 Jul 2013
Source: Sun, The (Yuma, AZ)
Copyright: 2013 The Sun
Author: Howard Fischer


PHOENIX - Medical marijuana patients whose drugs are taken by police 
are entitled to get it back, the Arizona Supreme Court has ruled.

In a brief order, the justices rejected arguments by prosecutors that 
the drug is strictly regulated by the federal government, leaving 
police legally powerless to turn marijuana over to anyone else. They 
gave no reason for their ruling.

The order most immediately affects Valerie Okun, whose drugs were 
taken from her nearly two years ago on Interstate 8 near Yuma. While 
she was never prosecuted - she has a valid medical marijuana card 
from California - sheriff's deputies refused to return the drugs.

But Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot told Capitol Media Services on 
Tuesday he's still not ready to hand over the marijuana. He hopes to 
get the case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

If he succeeds, that could affect more than the immediate question of 
when police have to return marijuana taken from medical cardholders.

It presents an opportunity for the nation's high court to look at the 
obvious conflict between laws in places like Arizona where at least 
some individuals can buy and have marijuana, and federal statutes 
which consider possession by anyone other than authorized researchers 
a felony. And that could pave the way for Supreme Court to finally 
rule whether states have an inherent right to enact their own marijuana laws.

Okun initially was stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint. Officers 
searched her vehicle after a dog alerted on it, finding marijuana and hashish.

The Border Patrol turned the matter over to county officials. But 
charges against her were dropped because she is enrolled in 
California's Medical Marijuana Program; Arizona's Medical Marijuana 
Act recognizes cards issued in other states.

Okun then asked the court to return the three-fourths of an ounce of 
marijuana that was seized. While the judge agreed, Ralph Ogden, who 
was the sheriff at that time, did not.

Attorneys for the sheriff said Arizona law requires any marijuana 
seized in connection with a drug offense be forfeited to the state. 
They also said the sheriff would be violating federal laws by giving 
the drug to someone else.

But in a ruling earlier this year, the state Court of Appeals said 
the sheriff's lawyers are missing a key point: Okun had a right under 
Arizona law to possess the drug in the first place, a point which 
county attorneys concede.

It was that ruling the Arizona Supreme Court refused to disturb.

"I think it's an unfortunate situation," Wilmot said, acknowledging 
the Supreme Court only reviews a small percentage of cases. "They 
didn't feel that this one was important enough as it is in our eyes."

The sheriff said he believes the ruling should not stand, which is 
why he wants to seek U.S. Supreme Court review.

"It has to do with the courts telling me to commit a crime," he said. 
"As far as I'm concerned, that's not how we do business."

The issue, the sheriff said, is that conflict between state and federal law.
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