NM Group pushes for legislative approval of medical marijuana

January 07, 2006

Carol A. Clark, Los Alamos Monitor (NM)

Los Alamos resident Jenni Gaffney attended a conference in Long Beach about medical marijuana and returned home to found the local chapter of Drug Policy Alliance (DPA).

The group is working hard to encourage Gov. Bill Richardson and local legislatures to allow medical marijuana legislation to be considered in the upcoming legislative session, which starts Jan. 17.

If this doesn't happen, the group contends that sick and dying patients who need legal access to medical marijuana won't have another chance for protection until 2007.

"So far Bill Richardson has not made a decision about whether to place the medical marijuana issue on his call list," Gaffney said during an interview on Wednesday.

Gaffney said she also has spoken with Rep. Jeannette Wallace and has calls into senators Phil Griego and Richard Martinez.

"Rep. Wallace told me she had not known there were people in this area interested in this issue," Gaffney said. "She said she would take the matter under consideration."

Gaffney said people don't let their legislatures know their feelings about how important medical marijuana is to sick and dying people. When the issue comes up, Gaffney said legislators haven't been contacted by their constituents and as a consequence, don't really know anything about it.

Wallace said in an interview Saturday that nothing can be done until the governor places the issue on his call list.

"That is the first hurdle," Wallace said. "After that my position is that I will listen to what the physicians tell us and decide from there."

Gaffney herself has stomach problems.

"I've had a lot of doctors tell me that medical marijuana is safer than the medications they are giving me," Gaffney said

Gaffney said some 81 percent of New Mexico voters support this issue adding that nationally, polls consistently show that 70-80 percent of voters want to make this medicine available for sick and dying people.

"This is a winning issue for elected officials of all parties," she said. "We need to take a stand for the sick patients in our districts who need this medicine."

The latest national poll which was conducted by the AARP, found that nearly three fourths of older Americans support providing access to medical marijuana, according to the organization's website. This is a nonpartisan issue, Gaffney said adding that not one legislator has lost his or her seat because they supported medical marijuana in past years.

According to the organization's website, studies show that marijuana relieves nausea and pain, and helps people eat. It also works to relieve the symptoms of glaucoma.

Gaffney said the University of New Mexico and the New Mexico Department of Health conducted a study of this medicine and found that it was effective for chemotherapy patients.

She said that this issue is very important for New Mexicans who are struggling with cancer, multiple sclerosis, and HIV/AIDS. "If their doctor thinks they should try this, we should give them legal access," Gaffney said.

In New Mexico, Gaffney said some 6,000 patients are diagnosed with cancer each year, and another 3,000 die. Some 13,000 people over 40 have been diagnosed with glaucoma, and there are 2,770 living with HIV/AIDS, she said.

She said that while not all of these patients will need medical marijuana, for those who do, doctors should be allowed to recommend it as an option.

"Some of these patients are in the final stages of their lives, she said. "I can't think of one person who wouldn't want to make this time as comfortable as possible for their sick mother or child."

Gaffney said the bill proposes a very structured medical model. People living with six conditions are eligible including cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, and spinal cord injuries.

The group's website states that physicians would write a medical recommendation for their patients that is subject to approval by a medical advisory board and the department of health. Patients would receive ID cards, and if they sell marijuana or give it to someone else, they are subject to prosecution. The department also would regulate licensed producers, ensuring that security and safety issues are addressed.

In the 10 states that already have these programs, there have been no increases in overall drug use, no increases in drug use among youth, and no individual patients that follow the states' law have been prosecuted, Gaffney said.

Drugs like opiates and cocaine are prescribed to medical patients every day, she said.

Gaffney said her background is in elementary education. She operated the Anything's Possible Childcare business in the Unitarian Church for three years. She closed the business in January of 2005 to stay home and care for her 2-year-old daughter Ella.

Gaffney's husband Guy is a credit analyst at Los Alamos National Bank.

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