Officials Grapple With State and Federal Divide Over Medical Marijuana

Mar 31, 2014

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court said marijuana must be returned to those who have a medical card to possess it. Arizona Public Radio’s Howard Fischer explains.


The legal fight started during a routine Border Patrol stop near Yuma in 2011. Officers found marijuana in the vehicle of Valerie Okun and turned it over to Yuma county prosecutors. They never brought state drug charges because she had a medical marijuana card from California. But, County Sheriff Larry Wilmot refused to return her stash saying that would put him in violation of Federal laws where the drug remains illegal. Unable to convince state courts, Wilmot sought U.S. Supreme Court intervention. But, the justices turned him away without comment. That decision to sidestep that issue disappointed Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk.

“That, to me, is the elephant in the room. As we all go forward, there’s this conflict between federal and state law. And it’s a very real conflict for law enforcement who, of course, as peace officers, they have to uphold both laws,” Polk said.

And Polk, who sits on the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys Advisory Council, said it’s even more complex than that, as that same requirement to obey federal law also applies to prosecutors and judges. Polk said the high court is going to have to address the issue at some point, in some case, in the future.