The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that the Yuma County Sheriff must return to Valerie Okun, a California resident, the marijuana that law enforcement seized from her inside Arizona because she held a valid California medical marijuana card.

“Authorities stopped Valerie Okun entering Arizona near Yuma and seized marijuana and other contraband from her car. The State filed drug charges against Okun, but dismissed them after she produced proof she is permitted to possess marijuana for medical purposes under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act.  After the charges were dropped, the superior court granted Okun’s request for the return of the marijuana. In this appeal from that order, the State argues Arizona law requires forfeiture of any marijuana seized by law enforcement and also contends the Yuma County Sheriff cannot return the marijuana to Okun without risk of violating the federal Controlled Substances Act. We affirm the superior court’s order requiring the Sheriff to return the marijuana to Okun. Because Arizona law allows Okun to possess the marijuana, it is not subject to forfeiture under state law. Moreover, the Sheriff is immune from prosecution under the federal law for acts taken in compliance with a court order.”

The State argued that the court should not order the return of the marijuana because it would subject the Sheriff to prosecution as a transferor of marijuana under the federal Controlled Substances Act. See 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1).  The case was not a complete loss for prosecutors Jon R. Smith, the Yuma County Attorney, and his two Deputy County Attorneys Edward P. Feheley and Theresa W. Fox because the court did educate them on federal law when it wrote:

“As Okun points out, however, federal law immunizes a law enforcement official from liability under circumstances such as these. Title 21, section 885(d) of the United States Code is titled “Immunity of Federal, State, local and other officials” and provides that, with exceptions not relevant here, “no civil or criminal liability shall be imposed by virtue of this subchapter . . . upon any duly authorized officer of any State, territory, political subdivision thereof . . . who shall be lawfully engaged in the enforcement of any law or municipal ordinance relating to controlled substances.” 21 U.S.C. § 885(d). This provision immunizes law enforcement officers such as the Sheriff from any would-be federal prosecution for complying with a court order to return Okun’s marijuana to her.”

Don’t you wonder why the prosecutors made a stupid argument to the Arizona Court of Appeals in light of relevant federal law directly contrary to their argument?

See the legal opinion in State of Arizona v. Valerie Ann Okun.