Politics stall progress of medical marijuana
March 17, 2005
Steve Terrell, The New Mexican
A bill that would legalize marijuana to treat certain medical conditions has stalled on the floor of the House of Representatives because of a dispute involving an unrelated bill dealing with developer impact fees in Albuquerque.Rep. Dan Silva told a reporter Wednesday that because of his difficulty in getting his House Bill 805 heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee, he's worked behind the scenes to delay action on the medical-marijuana bill, Senate Bill 795.
That bill is sponsored by Sen. Cisco McSorley, who is chairman of the Judicial Committee.
'I don't want that bill heard,' Silva said. 'My bill is a lot more important to my constituents.'
Both Silva, a 10-term House member, and McSorley are Albuquerque Democrats.
Silva's statement angered medical patients who have lobbied for the bill and who sat in the House gallery three days this week waiting for the bill to be heard.
'They're playing with my life,' said Essie Debonet, 60, an AIDS patient from Albuquerque. 'For me this is literally a matter of life and death. I'm 88 pounds. I'm fighting wasting with everything I've got.' Marijuana, she said, is the only thing that has given her enough appetite to prevent her from losing more weight.
Erin Armstrong, a 23-year-old cancer patient also from Albuquerque, said, 'I'm sure that each and every member of our Legislature knows and understands what a devastating and embarrassing message would be sent to our state's most vulnerable population if the bill's not heard. We've had overwhelming support. I'm optimistic they'll do the right thing.'
Meanwhile, Gov. Bill Richardson said Thursday he would sign the medical-marijuana bill.
'Pass it,' Richardson said, responding to a reporter's question about what he'd tell the House in regard to the bill. 'I believe there are enough safeguards. This is for those who are in extreme pain, in danger ... I would be prepared to sign it, and I urge lawmakers to pass it.'
McSorley said he was shocked by Silva's statement.
'Now we're told that money going to developers is more important than the lives of sick people,' he said. 'He's saying he should get special consideration and that his bill's more important than all the other House bills ahead of his.
'The first thing we learn as freshman legislators is that each bill should be judged on its own merits,' McSorley said. 'I will not give special consideration to legislation in order to pass my bills.'
He said Silva's bill would be heard in the order his committee received it -- if time allows. In recent days, bills in Senate Judiciary and other committees have been piling up because the Senate has been spending so much of its time in floor sessions rather than in committees.
Silva said McSorley doesn't like his impact-fee bill and won't talk about the legislation.
McSorley's bill, which passed the Senate with a majority of both Democrats and Republicans, had enjoyed a relatively easy time in the House, zipping through two committees with little opposition. It has been on the House floor calendar since Monday. On Tuesday it was No. 9 on the agenda. On Wednesday and Thursday, it was No. 3. But it has been passed over four days in a row.
In the House, McSorley's bill is being carried by Rep. Henry 'Kiki' Saavedra, D-Albuquerque. Saavedra is a co-sponsor of Silva's bill.
Those lobbying for the bill include sons of Silva and Saavedra. Domonic Silva said three of his clients are backing the impact-fees bill.
Among organizations backing the bill are the Association for Commerce and Industry, the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and the New Mexico Homebuilders Association.
Silva said his bill was prompted by the impact-fee bill adopted by the Albuquerque City Council, which divides the city into different segments with different impact-fee rates.
Impact fees are imposed on developers to pay for costs such as water-line and sewer extensions into previously undeveloped land.
Silva said the fees are unfair to those building homes in his southwest Albuquerque district.
For instance, the fee would be about $9,000 to build a new 2,000-square-foot house in Silva's area, compared to about $1,500 for the same house in the already developed middle part of Albuquerque.
Silva said this will result in higher-priced -- or lower-quality -- homes in his district and will encourage developers to build in outlying communities such as Rio Rancho, Los Lunas or Belen.
Supporters of the fees argue they reflect the actual cost of new development to the city.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.