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Feature: Medical Marijuana Bill Passes New Mexico Legislature, Awaits Governor's Signature

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #477)
Drug War Issues

Less than a week after the state House voted to kill medical marijuana legislation in the Land of Enchantment, it reversed itself, opening the door to New Mexico's becoming the 12th state to legalize the medicinal use of the plant. With minor changes approved by the state Senate this week, the only thing lacking is the signature of Gov. Bill Richardson (D). That appears to be only a formality, given Richardson's strong push to get bill to his desk.

This was the third effort to get medical marijuana through the state legislature. In two previous sessions, legislation passed the Senate, but never got to a floor vote in the House, for reasons having as much to do with legislative politics as with the virtues or liabilities of medical marijuana.

At the end of last week, it appeared that medical marijuana was again doomed in New Mexico after a House floor vote resulted in a 36-33 vote to kill it. But thanks to deft maneuvering by medical marijuana supporters and to Gov. Richardson leaning on the legislature, the bill came back from the dead this week.

Gov. Bill Richardson signing a bill into law
Supporters of the legislation led by Reena Szczepanski, head of the Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico office, managed to get the sponsor of a similar bill in the Senate to fold the language of the house bill, the Lynne and Erin Compassionate Use Act, into his bill, SB 523. The Senate, which had already approved the Compassionate Use Act, then handily approved SB 523 late last week, and the House voted 36-31 to approve it on Tuesday.

"There was actually another bill introduced in the Senate, and it was on the Senate floor two days after the first bill failed, so we worked with Sen. Robinson, the bill's sponsor, to adjust the content of his bill so it was similar to the first bill, which had already passed the Senate," explained Szczepanski. "The governor also worked really hard to swing some votes in the House, a lot of representatives got a lot of calls from the public, and enough of them changed their votes to pass this," she told Drug War Chronicle.

"This bill will provide much-needed relief for New Mexicans suffering from debilitating diseases while including the proper safeguards to prevent abuse," Richardson said in a written statement. "I am pleased that the legislature did the right thing, reconsidered this important bill and supported a humane option for New Mexicans who endure some of the most painful diseases imaginable."

The bill will allow patients to use marijuana to alleviate the symptoms of debilitating medical conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, certain spinal-cord injuries, epilepsy, HIV, AIDS, hospice care and other uses approved by the state Department of Health. Unlike other medical marijuana states, patients will not be able to grow their own medicine. Instead, the state Department of Health will be required to set up a system to license providers and will distribute the marijuana to qualified patients itself. According to the bill, that system must be in place by October 1.

"When Gov. Richardson signs the bill, he will be sending a strong message that states can and should exercise their right to do what is in the best interest of their citizens free from intrusion from the federal government," said DPA's Szczepanski. "Governor Richardson's unwavering support for the medical marijuana bill is a courageous step in ensuring that the will of the people of New Mexico has been validated and for that we are grateful."

"We're just thrilled; it's been a long, hard battle," said cancer patient Erin Armstrong, one of two patients for whom the bill is named. "I always knew it would happen; it just took a huge amount of work and patience. We're thrilled to have the support of the governor and the majority of the legislature and for New Mexico to become the 12th medical marijuana state. This is a huge victory," she told Drug War Chronicle.

Not everyone was thrilled. Rep. John Heaton (D-Carlsbad), a pharmacist who had railed against medical marijuana last week, was at it again this week, arguing that marijuana weakened the immune system. "To move in this direction just makes no sense at all," he spluttered.

Rep. James Strickler (R-Farmington) dragged out the old "what about the kids?" routine. "You can't make a bill ironclad enough when it comes to our children," he protested.

And Rep. Manuel Herrera (D-Bayard), a cancer survivor, would apparently rather die than smoke pot. "I've survived this cancer five times, and I intend to fight it with whatever is available except marijuana," he vowed.

The state Republican Party also got into the fray with a Tuesday statement made available to the Chronicle that accused Richardson of supporting the bill because he got donations from George Soros and the Drug Policy Alliance Network. "Gov. Richardson has two very big reasons why he is eager for passage of this legislation -- though it was previously rejected last week by the House," the statement reads. "The first reason is a $25,000 donation by political activist George Soros to Richardson's reelection campaign on July 24, 2006. The second reason is a $25,000 donation made to Richardson's reelection campaign on July 20, 2006 by the Drug Policy Alliance Network, a subsidiary of the Drug Policy Alliance. These organizations are heavily funded by radical political activist George Soros. Is $50,000 enough to buy drug policy in New Mexico?" the Republicans asked. "After all, illegal drug use in New Mexico is already destroying thousands of lives a year. Methamphetamine use has reached epidemic proportions across New Mexico, and the governor is advocating for 'medicalized' recreational marijuana use."

But despite the GOP jab, Richardson, who will shortly become the first presidential candidate to sign a medical marijuana bill into law, has been a supporter of the issue for at least five years -- as was the previous governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson, a Republican. And the bill passed has nothing to do with "medicalized" recreational use, but sets up a strict program with many safeguards for patients and the public.

Now, it will be up to the Department of Health to get a program up and running by October. It is not yet clear what that program will look like, said DPA's Szczepanski.

"There have been lots of possibilities discussed, and now everyone will be sitting down to examine what the best options are," she said. "We'll be leaning on the experience of other states -- what's worked and what hasn't. The law will go into effect July 1, and between then and October 1, patients will be able to get temporary registration cards, but getting the program up and running will take some time."

Still, said Szczepanski, there is plenty to celebrate now. "For the past three years, we've been so close, just a hair's breadth away, and it's been a real heartbreaker. It was a matter of persevering, helping patients and family members come to the capitol and talking to legislators one on one," she said. "I think that the truth finally prevailed; legislators couldn't continue to deny the patients after talking to them. But Gov. Richardson was also such a champion of this issue. He really worked this bill, and we owe the turnaround this week to him."

Provided Richardson signs the bill -- and there is no reason to suppose he will not -- New Mexico will join Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington as a state that has approved the medicinal use of marijuana. With medical marijuana bills moving in their respective state capitols, chances are increasingly good that at least two more states, Illinois and Minnesota, will join the club this year.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


martin holsinger (not verified)

martin holsinger
it will be interesting to see how the feds handle state-conducted marijuana growing....

Fri, 03/16/2007 - 1:57pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I'd be interested in how the state will obtain the material. Is that specified by the bill, or left open? The state could manufacture it, or could use cannabis confiscated during enforcement operations. If it's done by police in the course of enforcing the law, their possession, distribution, and even manufacture is legal without federal registration.

Sat, 03/17/2007 - 7:58pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

You want to give street drugs to seriously sick individuals? Remember, this is called "compassionate use".

"Soylent Green is people!" - Charlton Heston

Sun, 03/18/2007 - 4:53pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Marijuana has moved from the dirty mexican bull shit it was 30-40 years ago, to high grade,hydroponic,aeroponic,organic, full blown medicine. You cannot deny the facts of medicinal cannabis research. But for some reason you deny the evidence that cannabis is in no form a gateway drug, addicting, or lethal.

Tue, 03/20/2007 - 9:36pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

What is a "street drug"? You have been watching too much TV. And it's not anybody's, especially not the government's, job to protect anybody form themselves. Ideally, especially in America, it is the government's job to mind their own business and do what they're told. Try to remember what continent you live on.

Fri, 03/23/2007 - 7:06pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Its stupid to crimilize Marijuana, people drink alcohol legally and its proven that it kills brain cells, not so with Marijuana. People smoke cigarettes full of additives, tar, and cancerous chemicals guess what? They're legal. Decriminalize tax and regulate Cannabis and imagine the money the government would make instead of wasting taxpayer money on eradication of marijuana,and the prosecution and prison housing of recreational marijuana users. Put that money toward social programs that the federal goveernment under GW has been attempting to do away with and our country will be a better place.

Wed, 04/04/2007 - 1:22pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I have a severely herniated L5/S1 disc in my spine. They have me on morphine, percocet, vicoden, barbs. When I asked the doctor about marijuana instead of these drugs I'm on, he said he would never sign a prescription for marijuana. There is something wrong with our medical pros in a world where they will give you morphine but say marijuana is no good.
-Judah Braunstein

Fri, 05/25/2007 - 11:23am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

I know this is months off comment - but had to anyway.

All that traditional medical establishment is interested in is their own share of kick back from the big pharma companies. They 'practice medicine' as a way of obtaining that.

They're not particularly interested in wellness or healing as much as they're interested in and work from the platform of 'bandaidedness'...

I'm sorry you have your back issues - THAT connot be anywhere good - and if you've still seen no improvement - please find a good acupuncturist - I know they work wonders.

Very Best Regards,


Tue, 02/19/2008 - 7:00pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I think that Med Use of Marijuana is an essential not only for the use to treat chronic illness but also for pain, anxiety and countless other conditions that Marijuana is proven to treat. the fact of the matter is that more New Mexican use marijuana to treat medical conditions than not! its not considered an appropriate behavior in todays society so many of the Users hide behind Detox and "in the closet" approaches to help hide the use or treatment of marijuana .. its a shame that one of New Mexicos most important decisions are left in the hands of a handful of individuals whom some are too nieve to understand the true publics needs many of New Mexicos citizens never even get the opportunity to meet with Politicians because they are located in rural areas that hold a minimal amount of registered voters per seems that there needs or cry's are often ssshhhhddd by the areas larger in size who hold huge amounts of Non New Mexican registered anti marijuana influenced voters that dont truely understand the extend of marijuana use in the daily lives of New Mexicans. It helps maintain and sustain a culture who has been plagued by Alcohol, Meth, Cocaine, heroine and Opiate based medication use and has helped many New Mexicans far more than imaginable. The sheer fact that our right which we've had long before New Mexico was part of the US and a tradition is bieng overruled by an opinion of an outside un aware un-open minded biased idea that marijuana is considered taboo, harmful, and is set as illigal by our federal and state govt's is not fair to New Mexicos People sp for now we can only wish and hope that our loved ones whom use marijauna to treat their pain, anxiety, alchoholism, addictions, and many other disorders will be safe from conviction and and persecution......... after all marijuana is only bad because its illegal if it was legal there would be no redical attempts to use or access marijauana or marijuana related violence caused by drug lords and dope dealers seeking the godgiven plants financial opportunity. take away the value and the opportunities sieze to exist!!!the world will continue to go round as it has for the last thousands of years and this 200 yr USA vs THC war will end!!!!!!

Sun, 01/18/2009 - 10:10pm Permalink

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