National issue hits home

GRAMNET, attorneys disagree over application of law

The defense attorney for a Hayden medicinal marijuana user is questioning the ethics of a local drug task force, which appears to be ignoring a court order to return some of his client's property.

The Grand, Routt and Moffat Narcotics Enforcement Team (GRAMNET) has until Monday, Dec. 29 to return marijuana plants, marijuana pipes and two ounces of marijuana seized in an October raid of the home of Don Nord, 57, of Hayden.

Nord is registered as a legal user of marijuana under Amendment 18 of the Colorado constitution, which allows individuals suffering from certain debilitating conditions to use the drug.

GRAMNET has returned a grow light and other property seized in the raid, however Nord's medication has not been returned, despite the court order.

GRAMNET does not intend to return the property because it is a federal agency, and marijuana possession is a violation of federal laws.

That's where Nord's attorney, Kristopher Hammond, finds an ethical dilemma.

GRAMNET may "technically" be a federal agency, but it uses numerous local (state) resources to do its job.

All three counties (Grand, Routt, Moffat) in Colorado's 14th Judicial District contribute to the agency. All three counties staff the task force with local officers. Local officers from all three counties participated in the raid on Nord's house, according to Hammond. And GRAMNET only employs two officers who are strictly federal agents.

The local officers, including personnel from the Craig Police Department and the Moffat County Sheriff's Office, have sworn to uphold the Colorado Constitution -- and that means upholding Nord's right to grow, possess and consume marijuana, Hammond said.

"Every local officer takes an oath to uphold the Colorado Constitution," Hammond said. "When they become GRAMNET, they abandon part of that oath. That's what makes me mad."

Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta said GRAMNET became a federal agency "last year."

The move came after officials had "concerns from a jurisdictional standpoint," Vanatta said.

The agents assigned to work for GRAMNET may be called to work outside their jurisdiction, such as when a GRAMNET officer doubling as a Craig Police officer works in a neighboring county.

GRAMNET's federal status alleviated one jurisdictional issue, but may have raised another.

Officers assigned to the federal agency may be required to act in ways that contradict oaths they have taken to uphold Colorado law.

How can that be reconciled?

"I don't know that there is a reconciliation. I think there are always times when contradictions (will arise)," Vanatta said. "That's why you proceed with some things and let the courts settle them out."

In Nord's case, the court ordered GRAMNET to return the property. As of Friday, GRAMNET was not in compliance with that order.

Hammond has said he will take GRAMNET to court if it fails to follow the order.

He may use a recent federal appeals court decision to bolster his argument.

On Dec. 16, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of two medicinal marijuana users who sought to insulate themselves from the sort of raids to which Nord was subject.

It was widely viewed as a blow to the federal government's war on medicinal marijuana.

The court ruled that private, medicinal use of marijuana does not enter the stream of commerce and that federal laws do not supersede state laws in such cases.

"(The decision) is not binding on a state court judge, but it's all we have," Hammond said. "And I'm not aware of any contrary decisions."

"This case seems to suggest they can't hide behind federal laws," Hammond said.

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com.

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