A Blackfeet sends smoke signals 

Are you happy to see me or is that just the weed talking?

That was the tough question to answer in early January when officials returned confiscated marijuana to Donovan No Runner, a Blackfeet Indian from Montana living in San Luis Obispo, Calif. But No Runner, who is prescribed medical marijuana by a California physician for a bipolar disorder, thinks his case is more than just a joke.

After being arrested for possession, No Runner’s marijuana was seized by the police. Not allowing the issue to disappear, he pitched a tent on the steps of the San Luis Obispo courthouse for the duration of his case.

“After he got busted and they took his stuff, he camped out in front of the courthouse for three weeks” says his attorney Lou Koory. “I’m talking about sleeping in front of the courthouse where every day the judges and police are walking by.”

While smoking marijuana is illegal under federal law, California’s Proposition 215 made it legal for those with a doctor’s recommendation to pass the kutchie to the left-hand side (provided the person to the left also has a doctor’s note). But law enforcement can still confiscate pot until it is proven that the doctor’s note is legitimate. No Runner’s difficulty arose because California law doesn’t clarify what’s supposed to happen to medicinal dime bags in the interim.

“I got the court to sign an order for the return of his property and the police refused to comply with the order,” says Koory. “And in the meantime, the San Luis Obispo City Council called an emergency closed session.”

The sole purpose of the session was to decide what to do about No Runner’s case, and to provide guidance to the new police chief on how to handle the issue. Vice Mayor Christine Mulholland thought the issue was sticky, but not a crisis.

Mulholland had been an outspoken supporter of medical marijuana in the past, so deciding how to handle the case was no-brainer for her.

“I was kicked out of my position as PTA president at an elementary school for having spoken out about that [medical marijuana],” she says. “So it really gives me a big kick that now I have the City Council talking about it in closed session.”

Council finally directed the new police chief to return No Runner’s marijuana, and the San Luis Obispo prosecuting attorney decided not to appeal the case. It seems community leaders weren’t ready or willing to make No Runner the focal point in a showdown between state and federal law.

“At first it looked like it may have been headed to an appellate court, but the city finally came to its senses,” says attorney Koory.

In the meantime, No Runner has set a local precedent, one that Mulholland thinks the city, police and local courts will let stand.

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