Pubdate: Sun, 04 Jan 2004
Source: Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO)
Copyright: 2004, Denver Publishing Co.


Oh, it's good to be the king. You float high above the law and plunder
your subjects with impunity.

Or so it seems in Routt County, where the local cops bring along a
federal drug agent on their raids in hopes that his presence will
immunize them from the sticky strictures of the Colorado Constitution.
It's time someone told them they answer to state law, not the whims of
a federal agent who happens to be hanging around.

Last October a drug "task force" of nine, count 'em nine, agents,
acting on a tip and armed with a warrant, raided Don Nord's home in

A major drug bust it was not. They came away with three marijuana
plants, a couple of ounces of pot, some special lights and other
growing equipment. They didn't arrest him; possession of that amount
is a misdemeanor and they left behind a ticket.

They were not dissuaded in the least when Nord, who has suffered from
cancer and diabetes, showed them a certificate saying he's registered
in the state's medical marijuana program, which was established by a
vote of the people in November 2000.

The ticket commanded him to show up in Routt County court Nov. 4. But
the government somehow lost its copy of the ticket and Judge James
Garrecht dismissed the charges. The district attorney's office could
have chosen to refile, but declined to do so.

Kristopher Hammond, Nord's lawyer, then asked the county to return the
marijuana and the paraphernalia. After all, the medical marijuana
amendment specifically says that goods seized "shall not be harmed,
neglected, injured or destroyed" while in the possession of law
enforcement and must be returned immediately after acquittal,
dismissal of charges - or a decision not to prosecute.

The judge gave law enforcement 21 days to return the marijuana and
equipment. You might call it a writ of habeas cannabis. Some of the
equipment was returned but the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency - one of
whose agents had been in on the raid - said the pot had been shipped
to its lab in San Francisco and would not be returned.

"Federal law supersedes state law and the federal government does not
recognize the medicinal use of marijuana," said DEA spokesman Bill
Grant with that effortless superiority the feds are so good at.

But Hammond complained that in fact there was nothing federal about
the case. The warrant had been issued by a state judge. "The feds
can't just steal the marijuana and therefore make it federal
property," he said.

But they try, and they convince local law enforcement officials that
even they don't have to obey Colorado law.

As Hammond puts it, "It's no secret that the federal government claims
to be for states rights - until the states do things they don't like,
such as enacting a medical marijuana statute."

He's asking the judge to cite the DEA with contempt. We hope the judge
does just that. If he doesn't, or if the DEA brushes off the citation
as if it were a gnat, perhaps Hammond should try again in federal court.

Even if it isn't found in contempt, the DEA is clearly guilty of
violating the old mob dictum: "Never steal anything small."
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