Medical marijuana on New Mexico's agenda

January 18, 2006

Steve Terrell, The New Mexican

In an unforeseen move, Gov. Bill Richardson on Wednesday night said he will include a medical-marijuana bill on his agenda this legislative session . The governor’s decision surprised drug-law-reform advocates, who had been disheartened by Richardson’s statement earlier this week that there wouldn’t be enough time in an already packed 30-day session to take on the measure.

House Speaker Ben Luján , DNambé , said before the session started that he had asked Richardson not to include medical marijuana on his call, saying there wasn’t enough time.

But on Wednesday night, Richardson said in a news release, “After speaking with many seriously ill New Mexicans, I have decided to include this bill on my call. This issue is too important, and there are too many New Mexicans suffering to delay this issue any further.”

“We’re so thrilled and so grateful,” said Reena Szczepanski, director of the state chapter of The Drug Policy Alliance, a national advocacy group that has been pushing the proposed bill.

“We’re proud to have a governor who will stand up for compassion. We know it was a hard decision,” she said.

This week, the group advertised in newspapers urging readers to contact officials about the issue.

An e-mail from Szczepanski to supporters this week said, “Thanks to public outcry from supporters like you, we’ve had hundreds of letters from our members sent to the governor.”

The proposed bill would allow patients seriously ill with cancer, AIDS or certain other medical conditions legal access to marijuana.

Patients would be recommended by their doctors to a program overseen by the state Department of Health.

The department would be responsible for developing regulations for licensed producers of medical marijuana within the state and coming up with standards for safety, security and distribution.

Although both Richardson and Luján said the bill might be too controversial for a short session, last year relatively little controversy surrounded the bill, which had bipartisan support.

Last year, the legislation sailed through the Senate, passing 27-11 .

Though it breezed through House committees, the bill died in the House after Rep. Dan Silva, D-Albuquerque , got upset with the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque , over Silva’s unrelated zoning bill.

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