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Arizona sheriff must return Encinitas woman's medical marijuana

Appeals court upholds ruling after Border Patrol seizure

The sheriff’s department in Yuma, Arizona, must return a stash of marijuana seized from an Encinitas woman at a Border Patrol checkpoint two years ago, an Arizona appeals court has ruled.

Valerie Okun was stopped at the checkpoint just northeast of the California and Mexican borders when officers found and confiscated her marijuana and smoking paraphernalia, despite Okun’s effort to identify herself as a legal medical marijuana patient in the state of California by presenting identification to prove her claims.

Okun later beat drug charges filed against her by the state of Arizona by proving the legitimacy of her documents as a qualified patient in the California Medical Marijuana Program, which affords her protection under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act as well.

But Arizona balked when a county judge ordered Okun’s medicine returned, citing the federal Controlled Substance Act, and claiming that state law required the forfeiture of any seized drugs.

Three appellate judges affirmed the ruling in favor of Okun late last week.

“Because Arizona law allows Okun to possess the marijuana, it is not subject to forfeiture under state law,” wrote Judge Diane Johnsen on behalf of the panel, adding that the sheriff had immunity from the federal law, as the office “has no 'personal stake' in whether the federal Controlled Substances Act might invalidate Okun's right under the [Arizona Medical Marijuana Act] to possess an allowable amount of marijuana.”

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The sheriff’s department in Yuma, Arizona, must return a stash of marijuana seized from an Encinitas woman at a Border Patrol checkpoint two years ago, an Arizona appeals court has ruled.

Valerie Okun was stopped at the checkpoint just northeast of the California and Mexican borders when officers found and confiscated her marijuana and smoking paraphernalia, despite Okun’s effort to identify herself as a legal medical marijuana patient in the state of California by presenting identification to prove her claims.

Okun later beat drug charges filed against her by the state of Arizona by proving the legitimacy of her documents as a qualified patient in the California Medical Marijuana Program, which affords her protection under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act as well.

But Arizona balked when a county judge ordered Okun’s medicine returned, citing the federal Controlled Substance Act, and claiming that state law required the forfeiture of any seized drugs.

Three appellate judges affirmed the ruling in favor of Okun late last week.

“Because Arizona law allows Okun to possess the marijuana, it is not subject to forfeiture under state law,” wrote Judge Diane Johnsen on behalf of the panel, adding that the sheriff had immunity from the federal law, as the office “has no 'personal stake' in whether the federal Controlled Substances Act might invalidate Okun's right under the [Arizona Medical Marijuana Act] to possess an allowable amount of marijuana.”

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Comments
9

The sheriff "has no personal stake..." What kind of legal mumbo-jumbo is that? If Arizona law allows one to possess small amount of weed, and the person has a California card, what more would be needed? And when and why would a sheriff ever have a "personal stake" in a case like this? I'm glad it turned out like it did, but I find the ruling to be as clear as mud.

Jan. 16, 2013

The Yuma County Sheriff is a STATE law enforcement offficer/agency. Under the "Full Faith and Credit" clause article 4 of the US Constitution AZ MUST!! honor the laws of CA, there is no discretion at all, none.

Easy call on an easy case.

Jan. 16, 2013

As I recall, you lived in Yuma at one time. It must have been quite a while ago and you must not spend much time in AZ. or read any of their periodicals with much frequently. If you did, then you would know that starting with their governor and going right on down the totem pole, Az. pols and LE seem to believe that they can do as they damn well please, Constitution and Fed or state laws be damned. For example, despite the fact that their state constitution is very specific on the subject, their loony tunes governor has said that the rules for term limits don't apply to her and she can run for office again if she wants to. Or for a good laugh, look up the city government of Quartzite and read about what's going on there. It's hilarious.

Jan. 16, 2013

I actually did live in Yuma, and I liked the place. it was small, had a home towny feel to it, and the people, especially military, were very welcoming. I never had any run in with local LE though, and I think it has gotten worse since I was there a decade a ago.

Jan. 16, 2013

This actually reminds me of a well know CA case, where a Michigan resident was here driving their MI car, w/o a front plate which is perfectly legal in MI, and a cop pulled them over and wrote them a plate ticket and from there somehow the cop searched the car and found a boatload of pot. Long story short the case got tossed b/c the front plate was not a violation of MI laws and as such the CA cop had no reason to pull the car over......

Jan. 16, 2013

Javajoe - my interpretation is that the court was assuring the sheriff's department that it would be immune from prosecution by the feds if they gave back what the feds took away.

What more is needed than a California MMJ card and an Arizona law saying they honor California's MMJ law? Apparently two years worth of patience to fight a court battle to prove nothing more is needed.

Jan. 16, 2013

Dave a state court has no authority to grant anyone immunity in a federal court. And the AZ law is not applicable, for the reason stated above.

Jan. 16, 2013

Surf - you're right in that the court's language probably has no legal effect, as well as that the Constitution doesn't need affirmation from a state law (though it had it in this case). But I strongly doubt that the feds are going to come down on a small-town sheriff because they were following the orders of a state court that conflicted with federal law, which is the argument the sheriff's department originally used for refusing to follow a lower court's ruling.

Jan. 16, 2013

Isn't that pot pretty stale by now? Does she REALLY still want it back? Hehehe

Jan. 17, 2013

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