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AZ Supreme Court Affirms Ruling for Police to Return Seized Marijuana

State Marijuana Laws Pass Another Test of Strength.

Some see the Arizona Supreme Court’s refusal to disturb an Appeals Court ruling in favor of a Medical Marijuana Defendant’s rights, as win in the test of strength of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Law (AMMA). This is because the issues inherent in the case, extended well beyond the matter of returning a defendant’s Marijuana following dismissal of charges. They compel the state courts to address the conflicting federal laws on the prohibition of Marijuana.

Last week the Arizona Supreme Court, held the lower court’s ruling that Medical Marijuana Patients, who have not violated the law, are entitled to the return of the Marijuana seized from them in an arrests. The AZ Supreme Court Justices provided only a brief order, which in essence simply outlined their refusal to overturn the lower Appeals Court’s Ruling.

The case involved an out of state driver who was qualified to use Medical Marijuana the state where she resided, California.  After police found and seized her Marijuana, she was arrested. The charges were later dismissed after the defendant produced her Medical Marijuana Card, and proof of residency in California. The residual issue, however, was the fact that her Marijuana was never returned to her. An Arizona Superior Court ordered the police to return to her, the Medical Marijuana amounting to nearly an ounce, initially seized in the drug stop.

Here’s where it gets more interesting. The State of Arizona appealed that decision arguing that Marijuana seized by police could not be returned to the defendant. They argued that under A.R.S. 13-3413 of criminal code, the law requires forfeiture of Marijuana seized in an arrest; and that the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act did not expressly require them to return the Medical Marijuana to the defendant. Further the prosecution argued that the Sheriff would be in violation of the Federal Controlled Substances Act, and subject to prosecution, if they returned the defendant’s Marijuana, since federal law prohibits the drug in all forms.

The Arizona Appeals Court rejected the State’s arguments on the grounds that the driver was a qualified Medical Marijuana user, and not in violation of the law. So since the driver did not commit a crime, then the state was not justified in keeping her Marijuana in holding as part of a criminal offense. The Court ruled that in the alternative, if they wished to continue to keep the drugs they seized in the process of arrest, they could do so only upon prevailing in civil forfeiture proceedings. The AZ Supreme Court determined that that no penalties could be imposed upon the Arizona Sheriff’s Department or their personnel since Federal Law grants immunity to law enforcement officials who are acting under court orders.

The Appeals Court’s declined to address the argument that Federal Controlled Substances Act prohibition preempted, thereby invalidates AMMA. The court acknowledged the known general principal that when Federal law conflicts with state law, federal law prevails, and the state will be bound to the Federal law. However, in this case, the court recognized that there was no actual or imminent threat of prosecution by the Government in violation of the Federal Control Substances Act of the defendant, only the State of Arizona. The court found the facts of this case similar to Thomas v. Anchorage Equal Rights, 9th Cir. 2000 holding that “If no enforcement action or prosecution is threatened or imminent, the dispute is premature”. In conclusion they affirmed the Arizona Superior Court’s order for law enforcement to return the Marijuana, in favor of the defendant. The State Appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court; the Justices rejected the State Prosecutor’s arguments; and left the lower court’s decision undisturbed.

This is just one of numerous cases making their way through the criminal justice system, since Arizona passed its Medical Marijuana Law in 2010. Arizona is one of numerous states that have adopted Marijuana laws legalizing it in some fashion, either narrowly or liberally. The legal conflicts stem largely from the differences between state laws the Federal Control Substances Act which still prohibits Marijuana in all forms. Thus far, the Arizona State Courts have managed to circumvent a specific ruling in the matter, holding that their courts will not overturn the will of the people under AMMA, or that Federal Prosecution is not imminent in their presiding case.

Meanwhile, the Government has taken no action to prosecute people or entities using, possessing, selling, or cultivating, or distributing Marijuana, in compliance with Marijuana and Drug Laws of their State. But several Arizona County Attorneys and those who oppose the AMMA Law continue to contest the law, in look to obtain a specific ruling at the US Supreme Court level that will invalidate the law, in violation of the Federal Controlled Substances Act.

Until such conflicts are resolved between the Federal and State laws, qualified users of Medical Marijuana are still at risk for arrest, and prosecution, even if they are in compliance with the State Laws, and forced to defend themselves in criminal court. Drivers using Medical Marijuana, as qualified users face the highest risk of arrest for DUI in violation of A.R.S. 28 – 1381. This is because of strict case law that exists in Arizona which prohibits motorists from driving under the influence of Marijuana to any extent, even if they are not impaired to the slightest degree.

Maricopa County Marijuana Defense

Even Qualified Medical Marijuana users are at potential risk of being arrested for DUI, or other violations related to Marijuana, in violations of DUI and drug laws. If charges have been brought, you will need to need them in court, and through the criminal justice system. You have the right to retain a qualified attorney to defend you, and make sure your rights are protected. If you have active charges in Maricopa County, you can consult the Law Office of James Novak, in Tempe AZ. James Novak, Experienced Criminal and DUI defense attorney provides a free consultation. Call (480) 413-1499 before pleading guilty to DUI or criminal charges

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