Medical Marijuana yes, in the name of compassion

March 06, 2005

EDITORIAL, Farmington Daily Times

The state Senate has passed three bills that, if they become law, would have New Mexico joining 12 other states that allow the medical use of marijuana. Currently, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington have enacted laws to legalize medical marijuana. 

It's not the first time lawmakers have dealt with the legislation - and it wouldn't be the first such program in the state.  In the late 1970s, New Mexico set up a program linking the medical use of marijuana with a research project, which eventually lost its funding and became defunct. 

Former Gov.  Gary Johnson, a Republican and a drug-reform proponent, pushed medical marijuana legislation.  The House and Senate approved separate bills in 2001, but never agreed on the same version.  It was tried again in 2002 in the Senate and in 2003 in the House, but it failed each time. 

Senate Judiciary Chairman Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, said his proposal would provide 'one more opportunity for life for our loved ones.'

Two of the bills would restrict it to patients with cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, certain spinal cord damage, epilepsy and HIV-AIDS. 

Under McSorley's bill, the Health Department would license producers to provide the marijuana, which would be grown in secure facilities.  Patients whose doctors recommend it would apply to the department and, if approved by a review board of physicians, be registered to possess the drug. 

Sen.  Steve Komadina, R-Corrales, sponsored an alternative measure that would require the marijuana to be pharmaceutical grade, so that dosages would be consistent and regulated.  That would rule out smoking it, although an atomizer or inhaler could be used, Komadina said. 

The third bill, sponsored by Sen.  Shannon Robinson, D-Albuquerque, would allow people with chronic or debilitating diseases marked by pain or severe muscle spasms to use marijuana only topically - in a patch, lotion or gel, for example. 

A spokesman for Gov.  Bill Richardson said he was studying the bills and was encouraged by the safeguards they contained. 

'For people who are living in a tremendous amount of pain as a result of life-threatening diseases, this is a treatment that they should be allowed to have,' said Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for the governor. 

Critics of the bills said they were concerned the state would appear - especially to young people - to be promoting drug use. 

'My question today ...  is what kind of message are we going to be sending,' said Sen.  Carroll Leavell, R-Jal, who voted against the three measures. 

We respond to this by seconding the sentiments of Gov.  Richardson. 

The message we are sending young people is that common sense and compassion for those in pain is the lesson they should learn. 

Common sense tells us that if marijuana can ease the suffering of someone ill, in pain or dying, then compassion is the right choice. 

If we're so worried about the message we're sending our children, then we should send a message to our children about the causes of death in the United States. 

Tell them that while tobacco is legal, at 430,700 deaths per year, it is the leading cause of substance-abuse deaths; that alcohol is legal and 110,600 die from it each year; that adverse reactions to legal prescription drugs cause 32,000 fatalities a year; that 30,500 commit suicide; 18,000 are homicide victims; and that 7,600 people die each year from taking anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin. 

We're not saying to children to go out and do something illegal, but we are saying that with the right restrictions in place, if marijuana is prescribed and can ease the pain for someone or make their diminished quality of life better, then how can that be wrong?

The written record on medicinal marijuana stretches back over 2,000 years. 

The American Medical Association's Council on Scientific Affairs said in a report to the AMA House of Delegates June 2001 that 'until such time as rapid-onset cannabinoid ( marijuana ) formulations are clinically available, our AMA affirms the appropriateness of compassionate use of marijuana and related cannabinoids in carefully controlled programs designed to provide symptomatic relief of nausea, vomiting, cachexia, anorexia, spasticity, acute or chronic pain, or other palliative effects.'

We all have to make choices in our lives, and the larger and more important point is that it doesn't make any sense to punish sick people for trying to relieve their own suffering. 

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