Our View: Marijuana's legality

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Hayden medicinal marijuana user Don Nord has become something of a celebrity.

A quick Google search last week on "Don Nord" and "marijuana" revealed about 4,670 hits on sites such as Overgrow.com, Freedom to Exhale, Cannabis News and NORML, as well as news sites including CNN and Fox News.

Just a few months ago, before the Oct. 14 raid by officers working for the federal government, it's doubtful the same Internet search would have returned any hits.

Nord seems an unlikely candidate for fame and notoriety. He is 57 and lives on a fixed income. He has diabetes. He has battled kidney cancer, lung disease and phlebitis. He pays his attorney, Kris Hammond, a $100 monthly retainer.

Nord's case is the latest in a national dispute between federal and state laws regarding marijuana. Whether he gets back the 2 ounces of marijuana that federal agents seized is no longer important; determining whether Colorado and other states have the right to implement medicinal marijuana laws is.

In the 2000 general election, Colorado residents approved Amendment 20 by a margin of 53.5 percent to 46.5 percent. That amendment gave those suffering from "debilitating medical conditions" the right to register and use marijuana for medicinal purposes. Nord is a registered medicinal marijuana user and complied with the state law.

Eight other states -- Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington -- have similar laws.

But the agents working for the Grand, Routt and Moffat Narcotics Enforcement Team, a federal task force comprised of local officers, were complying with federal law, which classifies marijuana as a highly addictive and illegal controlled substance. The federal law, the U.S. Attorney's Office argues, supercedes state law, and therefore the federal agents are under no obligation to return Nord's marijuana to him.

Ironically, the raid on Nord's home came the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court decided it would not review the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision allowing physicians to discuss with and recommend marijuana use to their patients. That ruling was seen as a major victory in the medicinal marijuana battle, because some form of doctor's recommendation is central to the state laws, including Colorado's.

But the 9th Circuit's ruling centered mostly on the doctors' right to free speech, not the legality of medicinal marijuana. In fact, in 2001, the Supreme Court ruled in a California case that there is no exception to federal laws against the use, sale and distribution of marijuana, effectively outlawing medicinal marijuana clubs.

Nord's case is now in the hands of a federal judge, who could decide to move the case to federal court. Ultimately, the case seems to be a prime candidate for the Supreme Court to decide.

That, we believe, would be a good thing. Unlike previous cases that have made their way through the courts, Nord's case seems to strike directly at the heart of the matter -- the constitutionality of a state's right to implement a medicinal marijuana law.

The merits of medicinal marijuana aside, it seems reasonable that the residents of Colorado should be free to comply with laws enacted by the state and approved by its residents without fear of having their homes raided and property seized by federal agents.

Don Nord is not a hero, but he deserves credit for having the courage to push his case and challenge the federal government to clarify medicinal marijuana laws. The sooner that happens, the better.

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