Medical Marijuana: New Mexico Governor Puts Compassionate Use Act on Legislative Agenda 1/20/06

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In a surprise move, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) announced Wednesday night that despite earlier statements to the contrary, he will include a pending medical marijuana bill, the Lynn Pierson Compassionate Use Act, on his legislative agenda for the 30-day short session that began Tuesday. The bill sailed through the Senate on a 27-11 vote and moved easily through House committees before falling victim to unrelated political squabbles and dying in the House last year.

Earlier in the week, Richardson had disappointed patients and advocates by saying he would heed the pleas of House Speaker Ben Lujan (D-Nambe) to not include the measure in the short session. Typically devoted to budget measures, the short session in alternating years is jam-packed with fast-paced legislative action. Lujan told Richardson there was not enough time to consider the bill.

But Wednesday night, Richardson made clear he disagrees. "After speaking with many seriously ill New Mexicans, I have decided to include this bill on my call. This issue is too important, and there are too many New Mexicans suffering to delay this issue any further," he said in a statement.

The medical marijuana bill would allow patients suffering from certain serious illnesses to get recommendations from their doctors and apply to register as protected patients with the state Department of Health. The department would be charged with drafting regulations regarding safety, security, distribution, and the licensing of producers.

"We are so proud to have a Governor who's willing to stand up for compassion," said Reena Szczepanski, Director of the Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico, which has taken the lead role in moving the legislation forward. "We are so thrilled to have a chance this year and we have every reason to expect success."

"I thank the Governor for giving me another chance at life," said Essie DeBonet, who suffers from serious side effects due to HIV/AIDS medications. "I pray for him, and I'm so thankful because I might not have another year to wait for this bill."

As of today, there are now 27 days left for the legislature to act in this year's session.

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Issue #419 -- 1/20/06

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