A Native American tribe in Arizona says that the state’s medical marijuana cards don’t apply on tribal lands, and has apparently started seizing the vehicles of legal cannabis patients as they pass through.
Under Arizona law, the state’s 18,000 medical marijuana patients with state-issued cards are allowed to transport small amounts of cannabis in their vehicles — but not on tribal lands, reports Ray Stern at Phoenix New Times.
In the case of the Salt River Maricopa-Pima Indian Community, that includes a strip of the Loop 101 freeway — and it seems that every legal patient who drives down that particular stretch of freeway is not only putting his or her medicine at risk, but the vehicle they’re driving, as well.
A qualified patient told New Times that he was recently stopped — for “no reason” — on the 101 by a tribal cop, and that his car was seized by the tribe after a few grams of marijuana was found.
The man said the tribal officer pulled him over claimed his reverse lights were stuck on. “They weren’t,” he said.
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The officer claimed he could smell marijuana in the car, and the motorist admitted he had some on him — but he showed the officer his medical marijuana registration card. It didn’t help.
The Salt River tribal police officer wrote him a repair order for the reverse lights — then seized the car.
Fortunately, the unnamed source said he learned Friday morning that he’ll be getting his car back. The tribe agreed to release the vehicle to his dad — actual owner of the vehicle — on an “innocent bystander” loophole.
“They’re making him fly out here to get the car,” he said.
The story isn’t unusual, according to J.R. Packhorse, a law specialist who helps defend people in tribal court.
In another case on the Salt River Reservation — this one not on the freeway — “I had a man who lost a brand new Denali for a roach and two seeds,” Packhorse said. “I lost. They kept it.”
While Valarie Tom, a spokeswoman for the tribe, wouldn’t comment on any specific bust, she did confirm that “medical marijuana registration cards don’t apply” on that stretch of the 101, or anywhere else on tribal lands.
This seems to leave Arizona medical marijuana patients in the position of putting their medicine and vehicles at risk if they drive through tribal lands while carrying cannabis — even if they’re just on the freeway going from one non-tribal place to another.
“People who transport drugs in any jurisdiction face the possibility that they will be arrested, prosecuted, and that the vehicles they use to transport drugs may be seized,” reads a written statement from the tribe:
The Salt River Police Department, like all law enforcement agencies, takes appropriate actions with regard to drug offenses. People who transport drugs in any jurisdiction face the possibility that they will be arrested, prosecuted, and that the vehicles they use to transport drugs may be seized.As the U.S. Attorney’s office made clear in its May 2, 2011 letter to the Arizona Department of Health Services, Arizona law including the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, does not apply to Indian Country. The Community will therefore continue to enforce tribal and federal laws as they apply to drug offenses. While the Community has no desire to interfere with individuals’ exercise of their rights under Arizona law, given that the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act has not been fully implemented, it does not appear that drivers within the Community, including those traveling on state or federal rights of way, have the legal authority to possess marijuana within the exterior boundaries of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.
Last May, Gila River Indian Community officials asked Pinal County supervisors not to locate medical marijuana dispensaries within a mile of their borders because “they don’t recognize medical marijuana” and will prosecute anyone who tries to sell or use it on tribal land, reports Lindsey Collom of The Arizona Republic.
Pinal supervisors approved a medical marijuana ordinance without accommodating the tribe’s request.