Medical marijuana bill fails

March 19, 2005

Steve Terrell, The New Mexican

A Republican supporter of a bill that would allow sufferers of certain serious diseases to use marijuana made a last-minute — literally — attempt to pass the bill that sat for days on the House calendar as a result of a political dispute over an unrelated bill.

Though the move was unexpected, it wouldn’t have been impossible to push the bill through. In the closing minutes of the session — which, according to the state constitution, ended at noon — the House took action on several bills.

However, the attempt to revive Senate Bill 795 was stopped cold by House Speaker Ben Luján, D-Nambé, who said, “This is a very controversial item. We probably need a three-hour debate.”

Then House Majority Leader Kenny Martinez of Grants moved to adjourn the session.

Medical marijuana was one of this session’s most glaring examples of how bills can be delayed, held hostage and even killed as a result of political spats between lawmakers.

In this case, Rep. Dan Silva, D-Albuquerque, admitted this week he was working to hold up SB 795 until the Senate Judiciary Committee heard a bill of his dealing with impact fees on Albuquerque developers.

The connection was Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, the chairman of the judiciary committee as well as the sponsor of the medical-marijuana bill.

Silva’s bill never got heard. And even though McSorley’s bill was on the House Floor Calendar for six days last week, there was no mention of it on the House floor until Foley’s motion.

The speaker of the House has the authority to decide when bills get heard on the floor.

Luján said Saturday that Rep. Henry “Kiki” Saavedra, D-Albuquerque, who was carrying the bill in the House for McSorley, asked for the bill to be passed over.

Saavedra was a co-sponsor of Silva’s impact-fees bill. Both Saavedra and Silva have sons who worked as lobbyists advocating Silva’s bill.

Luján said medical-marijuana advocates never spoke to him about getting the bill heard. Asked if that would have swayed him to hear it, Luján said, “It would have helped.”

Reena Szczepanski, director of the New Mexico Drug Policy Alliance, said she and others contacted the speaker’s office several times last week.

Luján wouldn’t say if he’d have voted for SB 795. But Gov. Bill Richardson said Saturday he would have signed it.

“The House chose not to help dying people,” McSorley said Saturday. “It was money over mercy.”

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