Old dogs and new tricks E-mail
Written by Mark Nichols   

For some in law enforcement, changing attitudes and laws regarding the medicinal or recreational use of marijuana or cannabis have been taken largely in stride. But for others the idea that attitudes and laws are changing have created a kind of bunker mentality where the war on drugs must be protected and defended at all costs- even if that means disobeying a court order.

In Arizona, 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 recently rejected arguments by prosecutors that the drug is strictly regulated by the federal government and that by giving a patient back their medicine the police could be charged under federal law with drug trafficking offenses.

The justices gave no reason for their ruling.

The judge’s order is an important one for one Valerie Okun. A resident of California, Okun’s medicinal marijuana was taken from her nearly two years ago on Interstate 8 near Yuma. She was never prosecuted and she has a valid medical marijuana card from California.

But sheriff’s deputies refused to return the drugs.

Now Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot tells Capitol Media Services that he’s still not ready to hand over the marijuana. He hopes to get the case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
If the court decides to hear the sheriff’s case the impact for medicinal marijuana patients and law enforcement alike could be huge.’

Observers say the Roberts Court is likely to struggle between the court’s competing priorities of supporting law enforcement and back states’ rights as was recently the case with the Prop. 8 decision.

In Okun’s case she was initially stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint. Officers searched her vehicle and found marijuana and hashish.

The Border Patrol turned her over to county officials.

But charges against her were dropped because she is enrolled in California’s Medical Marijuana Program and 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. The judge agreed but Ralph Ogden, who was the sheriff at that time, did not.

Attorneys for the sheriff made an increasingly specious argument. They 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.

In other words if the sheriff gave the lady back her legal weed he’d be in violation of federal law.

But in a ruling earlier this year, the state Court of Appeals said the sheriff’s lawyers’ argument is flawed.
That’s because 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.’’

If you want to get a sense of just how hard it is for some drug warriors to adjust to the times that’s a great quote- a judge’s lawful order about returning seized property as criminal entrapment.

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