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Arizona cops must return woman's medical marijuana, Supreme Court says

Looks like the cops may have to give the drugs back.

The Supreme Court refused to hear a case on Monday about the return of medical marijuana being held by the Yuma County Sheriff's Office.
David McNew/Getty Images

The Supreme Court refused to review an Arizona court ruling that found that the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office must return the marijuana seized from a woman who had an out-of-state medical marijuana card, the high court said in an order issued without comment today.

By declining to overturn the lower court’s ruling, the Supreme Court settled the case of Valerie Okun, who was stopped by a border patrol agent near Yuma in 2011 and charged with marijuana possession. However charges were later dropped after the woman proved she was enrolled in California’s medical marijuana program. Arizona’s medical marijuana law recognizes those with out-of-state licenses.

Lower courts had previously ruled that the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office was required to return the woman’s property, but the sheriff’s office refused to return the evidence and appealed, arguing that federal drug laws prohibited them from doing so.

The state Court of Appeals, who heard the case last year, disagreed.

"The sheriff is immune from prosecution under federal law for acts taken in compliance with a court order," wrote Judge Diane Johnsen.

In light of today’s decision, a spokesman for the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office told U.S. News and World Report, “We are currently discussing it with our county attorney to decide what the next step will be.”

The case gets at the complicated intersection between state and federal drug laws. 20 states, including California and Arizona, have passed laws allowing the use of medical marijuana, but the drug remains illegal without exception in the eyes of the federal government.

Observers who had hoped that this case might finally resolve some of those questions were left disappointed. Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk told the Arizona Daily Star that sooner or later, the Supreme Court would need to address the question of federal preemption.

"To me, that is the elephant in the room," Polk said Monday.

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