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Medical Pot Case Tests Federal Law


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Source: Denver Post (CO)
Author: Mike McPhee, Denver Post Staff Writer
Published: Monday, January 12, 2004 
Copyright: 2004 The Denver Post Corp
Contact: [email protected]

DEA agent accused of defying state constitution, judge's order.

Don Nord did not want to get caught up in a conflict between state and federal law over whether he can keep and use marijuana. 

The Hayden man, who has a state Medical Marijuana Registry card allowing him to use the drug for pain caused by his cancer and phlebitis, just wants to recover the marijuana confiscated from him by a federal agent.

But that desire has planted him squarely in the middle of the tussle between federal and state officials. Although Colorado law allows the use of marijuana by authorized patients, federal law still forbids it. The dispute has been fought in courts from California to Washington, D.C., but has yet to be resolved.

Now, what started for Nord as possession of a few bucks' worth of dope has developed into a lesson in federalism. And his situation casts a spotlight on how the national debate over medical marijuana affects individuals, some of them poor and most in pain.

Nord's saga began Oct. 14. That's when nine members of the Grand, Routt and Moffatt County drug task force - one federal agent and eight local law enforcement officers - raided his tiny apartment, armed with a search warrant from Routt County Judge James Garrecht. They took three marijuana plants, 5 ounces of loose marijuana, a smoking pipe, some growing equipment and even Nord's registry ID card.

After Nord's attorney sent Garrecht a copy of the ID card, the judge in November ordered that everything taken, including the legal limit of 2 ounces of loose marijuana, be returned to Nord by Dec. 29. Nord was never charged with a crime.

The task force returned nearly everything two days before Christmas - everything but the 2 ounces of marijuana. The federal agent who took it from Nord says the stuff is illegal contraband, according to federal law, and that he doesn't have to return it.

On Dec. 30, Kristopher Hammond, Nord's attorney, filed a motion for contempt against the federal agent, Doug Cortinovis of the Drug Enforcement Administration, "for failing to follow the Colorado Constitution and a judge's orders." On Feb. 2, Cortinovis is headed to court to show why he shouldn't be held in contempt - of state court, that is.

And the U.S. Attorney's Office in Denver, which usually prosecutes criminals, will be forced to defend a federal agent against state charges.

Nord says the fight is a matter of personal comfort.

"I'm in a lot of pain now," he said. "I can't sleep without it. I really don't have the money to buy more."

But it's also a matter of principle.

"My client is (angry)," Hammond said. "Sure, he could go out and find some more (marijuana). He could just let the police get away with violating the Colorado Constitution and a court order. But he doesn't want to do that.

"He went to the trouble of getting a medical marijuana certificate, and he thought it meant something. Now this federal agent says he doesn't care about state law."

Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, refused to comment on the case, other than to say, "(Cortinovis) is our client, and we will defend him vigorously. Our pleadings will state our position."

Cortinovis, who didn't return calls to The Denver Post, said through the U.S. Attorney's Office that he upholds only federal law, which bans marijuana except for small amounts for research.

Nord, 57, lost a kidney to cancer and suffers from phlebitis and diabetes. He's in chronic pain. In 2002, he applied for and received a registry card to smoke marijuana for medicinal purposes. Only nine states have such a law, and fewer than 300 people in Colorado have such ID cards.

A former laborer and maintenance man, Nord can't work and lives on a fixed income of $655 a month from Social Security disability. He says good-quality marijuana, "which doesn't hurt my lungs," costs $100 a quarter ounce. That amount, he says, lasts him about two weeks.

Hammond said a person with a medical marijuana card is allowed to have six plants and 2 ounces of loose marijuana. The loose marijuana that is now the subject of the court fight was old, Nord said, and no longer worked for him because it lacked the active agent THC. He said he was using it for fertilizer.

The plants that were confiscated in the raid, he said, weren't ready to be smoked yet and now are worthless.

Hammond said Nord has made small monthly payments to him for representing him but that he hopes the judge will order Cortinovis to pay Nord's attorney's fees.

Related Articles:

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DEA Should Give Back Patient's Pot

Marijuana Fight Continues

Federal Authorities Refuse To Return Marijuana 

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