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Feds Try To Stop State Charge In Medical Pot Case

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The U.S. Attorney's Office on Friday asked a federal judge to dismiss a
contempt charge against federal agents who seized marijuana from a Colorado
man who had state permission to smoke it for medical purposes.

The case highlights a clear conflict between state and federal laws.

Attorneys for the federal government argued in a brief filed Friday that
the agents were following federal law, which treats marijuana as
contraband. But Colorado law allows authorized medical patients to possess
up to 2 ounces of loose marijuana and three live plants. Colorado has
authorized about 300 patients to smoke marijuana.

On Oct. 14, nine members of the GRAMNET drug task force entered the tiny
apartment of Don Nord, 57, of Hayden, armed with a state search warrant to
confiscate his marijuana.

Eight members of the task force are local law enforcement officers and one,
Doug Cortinovis, was a Drug Enforcement Administration agent. The state
officers were deputized DEA agents.

They confiscated six plants, 5 ounces of loose marijuana that Nord said was
worthless because of its age, a pipe, growing equipment, extension cords
and Nord's Medical Marijuana Registry card.

A few days later, Nord's attorney, Kristopher Hammond, sent a copy of the
registration card to Routt County Judge James Garrecht, who had signed the
search warrant. No charges were filed against Nord, and Garrecht ordered
that everything be returned, including 2 of the 5 ounces of the loose

On Dec. 23, the task force officers returned everything but the 2 ounces of

A week later, Hammond filed a motion for contempt in Garrecht's court
against Cortinovis "for failing to follow the Colorado Constitution and a
judge's orders" for not returning the marijuana.

Determined to defend the task force members, the U.S. Attorney's Office
stepped in Friday. It asked that the case be removed from state to federal
court, and that the contempt charge be dropped.

Federal attorneys wrote that "removal ... is proper when either a state
court civil action or criminal prosecution is brought against a federal
official, as long as the action for which the official is being questioned
was undertaken under color of federal office."

Arguing that the contempt charge should be dropped, they wrote: "It is not
the intent of officers or agents of the U.S. to violate state law in the
performance of their duties or to ignore orders of state court judges. In
this instant, regrettably, such violation was mandated by federal law, a
circumstance that is unfortunate and rare.

"Once GRAMNET members had in their custody contraband as defined by federal
statute, they were required to follow federal law in the performance of
their duties. Otherwise, they would have been subject to discipline and
possibly termination or worse, for dereliction of their duties."

Hammond said he was shocked.

"Just like they stole the marijuana and sent it to the DEA lab, they're
trying to steal it from the state court and send it to federal court,"
Hammond said. "If they didn't like the judge's order to return the
marijuana, they should have appealed that order. They didn't and I believe
that every court has the right to enforce its orders.

"We all have to obey court orders even if we don't like them. Sounds to me
like they're being a bunch of crybabies."

Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said his office
will vigorously defend the DEA task force officers in this case.

Pubdate: Sat, 24 Jan 2004
Source: Denver Post (CO)
Webpage: http://www.denverpost.com/Stories/0,1413,36%7E53%7E1911397,00.html
Copyright: 2004 The Denver Post Corp
Contact: openforum@denverpost.com
Website: The Denver Post – Colorado breaking news, sports, business, weather, entertainment.