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Nord case waits

No federal ruling on local medicinal marijuana case

Susan Cunningham

Every day, Hayden resident Don Nord can’t help but think about his medicinal marijuana case that is before a U.S. District Court in Denver.

“I sit and wonder what’s taking place every day … if anything’s going to take place,” Nord said.

Earlier support he received from people across the state and nation has waned. The calls from people wanting to help have stopped.

And although Nord has sold all of his T-shirts and bumper stickers that read “Guys … Let’s not bust cancer patients,” he does not plan to buy more.

“Everybody just thinks there’s nothing that’s going to happen,” Nord said.

Nord is asking that 2 ounces of marijuana that was confiscated from him by the Grand, Routt and Moffat County Narcotics Team in October 2003 be returned. Nord, who has suffered from cancer, diabetes and chronic pain, is a medicinal marijuana user registered with Colorado.

Colorado, along with Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and most recently Montana, have rules that allow residents to use marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Federal law, however, does not allow the use of marijuana.

Nord’s case gained attention last year after Routt County Judge James Garrecht held GRAMNET officers in contempt of court when Nord’s 2 ounces of marijuana were not returned as Garrecht had ordered.

The case then was passed to the Denver District court, where Federal District Judge Walker Miller has yet to rule on the case.

Since last spring, Nord has been waiting without much news.

Nord’s attorney, Kris Hammond, said he thinks the judge has yet to decide on Nord’s case because of a pending case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Ashcroft v. Raich.

In that case, Angel Raich and Diane Monson, two California women who use marijuana for medicinal reasons, filed suit against the U.S. Attorney General, John Ashcroft at the time, seeking permanent protection from federal rules that make it illegal for anyone to use marijuana.

Raich has an inoperable brain tumor, life-threatening weight loss, a seizure disorder, nausea and severe chronic back pain, and Monson suffers from severe chronic back pain and constant, painful muscle spasms, according to court filings. Raich has someone grow marijuana for her, and Monson grows her own.

In 2002, Monson’s home was raided, and six marijuana plants were seized. The two women entered their suit after that, fearing future raids.

On Dec. 16, 2003, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals court ruled in favor of the women, saying that it is unconstitutional to prosecute sick people under federal law for using medicinal marijuana if the users grow the drug or get it for free.

That decision was appealed, and the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case Monday, with a decision expected in the spring.

If the 9th Circuit decision holds, the two women cannot be arrested for using or growing medicinal marijuana, a ruling that should set helpful precedent for other medicinal marijuana users.

“The outcome of that case is going to really impact the outcome of Don’s case,” Hammond said.

When arguing Nord’s case, Hammond referred to the Raich and Monson case frequently.

“It’s all on the same issue of our case, and that is whether the federal government can interfere with purely intrastate activity, such as Don growing his own medicine in his own home,” Hammond said.

At this point, Hammond said he thinks Nord’s case was not just about getting 2 ounces of marijuana back, but rather has more of a symbolic significance.

Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said Judge Miller does not have any timeline under which he has to rule on Nord’s case.

“No ruling at this point doesn’t signal one thing or another, it just shows the judge is taking a deliberative process,” Dorschner said.

Meanwhile, Nord said he is facing a large legal bill that he can’t afford to pay.

He doesn’t know whether he can grow marijuana again — he said he worries about the chance of another home raid.

Waiting for a decision can be lonely and frustrating at times, he said.

“It’s just hard waiting,” Nord said. “I’d like to know that (people) are still behind me. … It just needs to be said every so often that the case is still open.”

— To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com


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