State Capitol News
12:28 pm
Tue August 28, 2012

Yuma County Police May Have to Return Marijuana

If a court commissioner gets her way, Yuma County sheriff's deputies will be delivering about three-fourths of an ounce of marijuana to a California woman.

When Valerie Okun was stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate 8 in Yuma, a police dog alerted on her vehicle. Officers found marijuana and hashish. But rather than charging her under federal law, they turned the case over to Yuma County. Because the California resident has a medical marijuana card, the case was dropped. Then defense attorney Michael Donovan asked the sheriff's department to return his client's marijuana.

"They initially said no," Donovan said. "In fact, they've always said no. Then when the court got involved, when I filed the motion with the court, they then said we will retain it pending further order of the court. So they still have it. At least they're supposed to still have it."

Yuma County Court Commissioner Lisa Bleich sided with Donovan, saying the property should be returned to its rightful owner. Bleich acknowledged marijuana remains illegal under federal law. But she rejected arguments that deputies might face criminal exposure, saying it's highly unlikely federal agents would bust anyone for following a court order. Yuma County Attorney Jon Smith said that's not an answer.

"It doesn't resolve the fact that people shouldn't be forced to do things that are otherwise illegal under our state and/or federal law," Smith said.

Smith is now asking the state Court of Appeals to overturn the ruling.