Under Arizona's Medical Marijuana Act, motorists with state-issued pot cards can legally transport a small amount of "medicine" in their vehicles -- but not on tribal lands.
And those Native American lands include a strip of the Loop 101 freeway that runs from south of McKellips Road to the Pima Road/90th Street exit.
A qualified patient told us he was recently stopped for "no reason" on the 101 by a cop working for the Salt River Maricopa-Pima Indian Community, and that his car was seized by the tribe after a few grams of pot was found.
Valarie Tom, a spokeswoman for the SRP-MIC, wouldn't comment on any specific bust. But she does confirm that medical-marijuana registration cards don't apply on that stretch of the 101, or anywhere else on tribal lands, for that matter.
In other words, if you're passing through Indian Country, leave the bud at home -- whether or not you're legal under state law.
One difference between, say, Cibecue and the Salt River tribe though, is that the home of Casino Arizona borders a major urban area and has a heavily used freeway running through it.
Tom says she consulted with Tribal President Diane Enos for our question about seized vehicles.
"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. (Full text below.)
Our intrepid source who accidentally tripped this minefield says he's had a heck of a time getting the car back, even though it belongs to his father. We're withholding his name by his request.
He says the officer who pulled him over informed him that his reverse lights were stuck on.
"They weren't," he says.
The officer claimed he could smell marijuana in the car, and the motorist confessed to having some pot. He showed the officer his medical-marijuana registration card -- to no avail.
As former Arizona U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke reminded the state back in May, the feds have exclusive control over drug crimes on reservations.
The Salt River police officer wrote him a repair order for the reverse lights -- then seized the car.
J.R. Packhorse, a law specialist who helps defend people in tribal court, tells New Times our source's story isn't unusual.
In another case on the Salt River res, though not on the freeway, "I had a man who lost a brand-new Denali for a roach and two seeds," Packhorse says. "I lost. They kept it."
Packhorse, a Ponca, says the tribe runs a fair court, in general, despite such incidents.
Our unnamed source says he learned this morning that the tribe will release the car to his dad based on an "innocent bystander" provision.
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"They're making him fly out here to get the car," he says.
The state's 18,000 medical marijuana patients may want to consider the scenery on the State Route 51.
Below, the SRP-MIC's statement:
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.