The New Mexico medical marijuana bill blessed repeatedly by Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson passed the state Senate on an overwhelming 34-6 vote Tuesday and now heads for the House, where legislators have one week to act before the 2006 short session ends. If the bill passes the House, New Mexico will become the 12th state to legalize medical marijuana.
But there could be trouble coming. The Drug Policy Alliance reported Thursday that opponents are mobilizing. The group, which has been instrumental in pushing the bill along, also reported that opponents had diverted it into the hostile House Agriculture Committee and was calling on supporters to flood legislators with phone calls demanding the bill be passed out of committee and brought to the floor.
Senate passage came despite an attempted intervention last Friday by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which sent David Murray, a special assistant to drug czar John Walters, to testify against the bill when it was before the Senate Judiciary Committee. But the drug czar's effort to strong-arm New Mexico legislators backfired, as the committee passed the bill handily and legislators from both parties publicly criticized Murray's remarks.
SB 258, the Lynn Pierson Compassionate Use Act, would allow patients with serious medical conditions, including AIDS and cancer, to use marijuana to alleviate symptoms or side effects of treatments for those diseases. Patients with a doctor's recommendation would register with the state Department of Health, which would also oversee the production of medical marijuana in a facility either state-run or operated by a private agency that would contract with the state.
Last year, the bill passed the Senate and two House committees, but was derailed for unrelated reasons in a political spat between its sponsor, Sen. Cisco McSorley (D) and a key House legislator. This year, it has to again make it out of committee and get a floor vote -- all in the next seven days. Advocates are already working on that. "We had a great meeting last week with House Speaker Ben Luján (D)," Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico office director Reena Szczepanski told the Santa Fe New Mexican. While Luján made no promises, she said, "it's definitely in his court now."
Luján, for his part, complained to the New Mexican Tuesday that the medical marijuana bill was such a high Senate priority. "I would have hoped that the first bills passed would have addressed issues that are more at the forefront of what the general public really wants," he said. But, Luján said, "I'm not going to derail this bill or attempt to keep it from being heard."