Arizona may let police destroy wrongfully seized medical marijuana

By Stephen C. Webster
Tuesday, February 12, 2013 11:26 EDT
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Medical marijuana worth hundreds of thousands of dollars that was wrongfully seized from licensed patients and dispensaries may be on the burn pile in Arizona soon, if a state lawmaker has her way.

Senate Bill 1441, which would authorize police to destroy any marijuana that comes into their possession, cleared the Republican-dominated Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday by a vote of 5-3.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Kimberly Yee (R) in response to a state Court of Appeals ruling that found the law protects residents of other states that have legalized medical marijuana.

The court ruled on a case stemming from the 2011 arrest of California resident Valerie Okun, a medical marijuana patient who was arrested and had her medicinal supplies confiscated while traveling through Arizona. When Okun’s charges were dropped but police refused to return their evidence, she sued to get the marijuana back.

Yee sees that as a “loophole,” according to The Yuma Sun, and she wants to plug it out of fear that current state law would require the police to violate federal law set forward in the Controlled Substances Act, which prohibits giving away or selling marijuana, among other activities.

A similar sticking point has arisen in several other states that have legalized medical marijuana as well. Police in Ellsworth, Maine, recently returned over $13,000 worth in marijuana plants stolen from a licensed caregiver. Some governors have even worried that licensing marijuana production could get state employees in trouble with the feds simply for interacting with the industry at all.

While that’s not happened anywhere just yet, the Obama administration has been adamant about knocking over dispensaries and prosecuting medical marijuana business owners en masse. While it’s highly unlikely that the president’s attorneys would offer an opinion on police destroying seized marijuana, the courts are almost certain to weigh in should Arizona’s SB 1441 become law.

Photo: Shutterstock.com.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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