U.S. court eyes agent's refusal to return pot

March 10, 2004

Mike McPhee , Denver Post

A federal judge has taken over jurisdiction of a case that grew out of a federal narcotics agent's refusal to return a Hayden man's confiscated marijuana.

U.S. District Judge Walker Miller on Tuesday moved the contempt-of-court case from Routt County Court in Steamboat Springs to his Denver court. The case will decide if federal narcotics agents can be held in contempt of court for disobeying state court orders.

In October, federal agents raided the apartment of Don Nord, 57, who has a valid Colorado medical marijuana registry card allowing him to smoke the drug legally to alleviate pain from cancer, phlebitis and diabetes. One Drug Enforcement Administration agent and five local law enforcement officers confiscated marijuana plants, loose marijuana, and growing and smoking paraphernalia.

Subsequently, Nord's attorney, Kristopher Hammond, showed Routt County Judge James Garrecht a copy of Nord's registry card. The district attorney's office refused to file charges against Nord, and Garrecht ordered the agents to return the paraphernalia and 2 ounces of marijuana, the amount Nord can possess legally.

The agents returned all but the marijuana. DEA agent Doug Cortinovis argued that marijuana is contraband under federal law and that his job is to enforce only federal laws. (Colorado allows the use of marijuana by authorized patients, but federal law still forbids it.)

Hammond then filed a motion to hold Cortinovis in contempt. Garrecht issued a citation and ordered Cortinovis to argue why he shouldn't be held in contempt.

The U.S. attorney's office quickly asked that the case be sent to federal court, which Miller granted. He cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the chief purpose of one section of U.S. law is 'to prevent federal officers who simply comply with a federal duty from being punished by a state court. ...'

The U.S. attorney's office has filed a motion that the case be dismissed by Miller. Miller has given Nord's attorney until March 29 to file arguments why it shouldn't be.



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