PHOENIX — Medical marijuana patients who have their medicine confiscated by police are legally entitled to get it back, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Monday, rejecting arguments by prosecutors.
The justices declined to review a challenge to a January ruling by The Arizona Court of Appeals, who ruled that the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office must return marijuana confiscated from a California medical marijuana patient in 2011. By refusing to review the case, the Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the lower court without comment.
Valerie Okun, a California resident permitted to use medical marijuana, was cited for violating Arizona drug laws in 2011, when authorities confiscated marijuana from her at a border checkpoint near Yuma. Those charges were later dismissed after she provided her California medical marijuana authorization to court officials.
Arizona’s 2010 voter approved medical marijuana law allows reciprocity to patients from other medical marijuana states, honoring their medical marijuana cards and allowing medical marijuana patients visiting Arizona to possess up to two and a half ounces of cannabis.
After Okun’s charges were dropped, she asked the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office to return her medicine, a request that was granted by the court. The Yuma County Sheriff, however, argued that he could not return her marijuana because in doing so his office would be violating federal drug distribution laws.
The Arizona Court of Appeals disagreed with the sheriff in January, upholding the lower courts ruling to return Okun’s medicine. The appellate court ordered the marijuana returned, saying it never should have been confiscated in the first place, as it was not subject to forfeiture under Arizona law.
Despite the January ruling by the Court of Appeals, and Monday’s ruling by the Supreme Court, Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot is still not ready to comply with the courts and return the confiscated marijuana, instead hoping to take the case all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
“It has to do with the courts telling me to commit a crime,” Sheriff Wilmot told the Arizona Daily Times. “As far as I’m concerned, that’s not how we do business.”
However, the January ruling by the Court of Appeals disagrees. “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.
Sheriff Wilmot says because of the conflict between state and federal law, he could still be charged for “distribution” of marijuana if he returns Okun’s medicine, and wants the United States Supreme Court to make the final ruling.
“I understand the fact that the Arizona court could give me, basically, immunity if I did return this stuff,” Wilmot said. “But the bottom line is, they can’t give me immunity from the federal government for prosecuting me for doing this because it is a federal law violation.”
Arizona Supreme Court to Police: Give Medical Marijuana Back to Patients was written by Thomas H. Clarke and appears in full on The Daily Chronic.
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