U.S. Supreme Court Helps Encinitas Woman Trying to Get Her Pot Back from Arizona Sheriff

Wednesday, April 02, 2014
Sheriff Leon Wilmot (photo: Yuma County Sheriff’s Office)

It took three years and a visit to the U.S. Supreme Court, but Valerie Okun of Encinitas is getting her marijuana stash back from the Yuma County Sheriff in Arizona. Maybe.

Okun and her husband were stopped at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection checkpoint in Yuma County in January 2011 on their way to a gem show. Although she had a California medical marijuana card, the authorities confiscated three-quarters of an ounce of pot, some hashish and paraphernalia.

California card holders are legal to possess and use marijuana in Arizona and are afforded the same protections from discrimination (including discrimination by employers) as Arizona medical marijuana patients. Californians just can't obtain their drugs from an Arizona dispensary. 

Okun, who smokes pot for relief from the autoimmune disease lupus, was initially charged with three felonies. When the charges were dropped for lack of a prosecutable crime, Sheriff Leon Wilmot refused to return her pot. Wilmot claimed that he would be at risk because marijuana is still illegal to possess under federal laws—which conflict with California and Arizona laws—and he feared being held legally liable.

So Okun sued. The county Superior Court judge ruled in her favor and Arizona appealed. Okun won at the state appellate and high court levels. Wilmot took it to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the appeal without comment.

Reached after the federal high court’s nonruling, Wilmot told the Yuma Sun he was disappointed that none of the courts even tried to clear up the blatant conflict between federal and state laws that have bedeviled police, judges, lawmakers, dispensary operators and pot smokers the past three years.

The appellate court said it dodged the issue because Arizona didn’t make much of an argument: “The state’s brief fails to provide any meaningful discussion about federal preemption, the Supremacy Clause, legislative intent and how these complex principles might apply in this context.”

So, now all that is left is Okun getting her aged pot back. The odds that the bud hasn’t lost its potency, developed mold or been smoked by cops appear small, based on lively online debates.

But that may be moot. Wilmot says he remains conflicted and still considers handing over the pot a violation of law. Wilmot spokesman Alfonso Zavala said his boss is consulting with the county attorney’s office before deciding what to do.  

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Sheriff Seeks Clarity after Court Declines to Hear Pot Issue (by James Gilbert, Yuma Sun)

AZ Sheriff Must Return Encinitas Woman’s Marijuana (by Kristina Davis, U-T San Diego)

Wilmot Loses Supreme Court Pot Case (by Howard Fischer, Capital Media Services)

Valerie Okun: SoCal Medical Marijuana Patient To Get Weed Back From Ariz. Cops (by Dennis Romero, LA Weekly)

State of Arizona v. Valerie Ann Okun (Arizona Court of Appeals District One)

Leave a comment