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Steven Nelson, U.S. News & World Report
California resident Valerie Okun is one step closer to reclaiming medical marijuana seized by Arizona police near the Mexican border in 2011.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to review state court rulings that found Okun is entitled to the return of her marijuana, currently held by the Yuma County Sheriff's Office.
Arizona’s medical marijuana law – ratified by voters in 2010 – allows reciprocity for out-of-state medical marijuana patients, but the sheriff’s office argued returning the drug would violate federal law.
The Controlled Substances Act ranks marijuana as one of the nation’s most dangerous narcotics, but the Justice Department allows states to establish their own medical and recreational marijuana programs, so long as certain restrictions are enforced.
Alfonso Zavala, a spokesman for the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office, says there is no immediate decision on whether or not to return Okun’s marijuana, which remains in evidence.
“We ourselves have just learned about [the decision],” Zavala said. “We are currently discussing it with our county attorney to decide what the next step will be.”
The Superior Court in Yuma County and the Arizona Court of Appeals Division One previously sided with Okun.
Okun’s attorneys did not immediately responded to a request for comment.
Kris Hermes, a spokesman for the medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, says the Supreme Court’s decision is no surprise.
Americans for Safe Access successfully sued Garden Grove, Calif., on behalf of Felix Kha after his medical marijuana was seized by local police in 2005. State courts forced the city to return the marijuana and pay $139,000 in legal fees.
California's Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled in 2007 "judicial enforcement of federal drug policy is precluded in this case because the act in question – possession of medical marijuana – does not constitute an offense against the laws of both the state and the federal government.” The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case in 2008.
“Now, Arizona is finally catching up with the law,” Hermes says. “It's time for police to come to grips with the rights of medical marijuana patients so they can live free of unreasonable retribution and discrimination.”