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FARGO, North Dakota — A Washington state couple who were caught with medical marijuana in a North Dakota motel room cannot use their prescriptions as a defense, the state Supreme Court said in a ruling released Thursday.
Brian Kuruc and his wife, Rebecca Larson, of Dickinson, were apprehended last year at a Casselton motel after officers responded to a complaint about a strong odor of marijuana coming from one of the rooms. Kuruc and Larson entered conditional guilty pleas to possession of marijuana and tampering with physical evidence.
Defense attorneys argued that evidence should be thrown out because Kuruc and Larson both had valid pot prescriptions from Washington and the amount of marijuana was under allowable limits.
The justices instead agreed with East Central District Judge Wickham Corwin, who said the prescriptions could not be used as a defense because North Dakota law considers marijuana to be a Schedule I controlled substance, which is determined to have no accepted medical use for treatment in the United States.
“We do not believe the Legislature enacted the Uniform Controlled Substances Act to put North Dakota in the perplexing position where it must recognize out-of-state marijuana prescriptions even though the same exact prescription cannot be made legal for its own citizens,” Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle wrote.
The court also noted that medical marijuana is not legal under federal law.
Cass County State’s Attorney Birch Burdick and lawyers for Kuruc and Larson were not immediately available for comment.
Kuruc works as a certified professional welder and Larson is a quality control analyst in the state’s oil patch. Their lawyers would not disclose their ailments, but Washington law requires that a person be diagnosed with a “terminal or debilitating medical condition” to obtain a medical marijuana certificate.
Justices also rejected a complaint by Kuruc and Larson that all the evidence should be thrown out because deputies conducted an illegal search and seizure.
Court documents show that Larson told officers they did not have permission to enter the motel room, but they eventually forced their way in after seeing Kuruc grab a large duffel bag and run into the bathroom. Officers then forced open the door to the bathroom, where Kuruc was flushing marijuana from the duffel bag down the toilet. Deputies took steps to “freeze the scene” while they waited for a warrant to be issued.
Corwin ruled that the warrantless entry was unreasonable and excluded some evidence, including incriminating statements by Larson and contraband found in Larson’s rental car. The remaining evidence in the hotel room was allowed because the decision to seek the warrant was based on the complaint and the smell of marijuana coming from the room, the judge said.
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