New Mexico marijuana bill passes first hurdle

January 24, 2006

Walter Rubel, Daily Times (NM)

A bill to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes was unanimously endorsed by the Senate Public Affairs Committee following testimony by patients who described its use as a matter of life and death.

Essie DeBonet, 61, told committee members that she is an 18-year AIDS survivor who is constantly dealing with nausea. She said later that she is taking four medications to combat her disease, and another nine medications to deal with the side effects of AIDS drugs.

"My life has become degrees of nausea," she said. "It (medical marijuana) enables me to eat anything I want."

Errin Armstrong, daughter of Aging Secretary Debbie Armstrong, said she is a cancer patient who pushed back a scheduled biopsy in order to testify in support of the bill.

"This is something I'll be battling the rest of my life," she said. "I ask you to provide me with every option I can discuss with my doctor."

The bill would shield both the patient and the primary caregiver from arrest. It would establish a new board that would be responsible for issuing registry cards to qualified users.

The board also would identify procedures for producing and distributing the drug.

Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, who is sponsoring the bill, said it is nearly identical to legislation that was introduced last year, but died when time ran out on the session.

"We are not claiming this cures anything," McSorley said. "We are only claiming that this substance, this herb, helps with conditions when people take it."

The bill was opposed by representatives of several law enforcement agencies, who said they feared the law would be abused.

"What will happen is, it's opening the door for the criminal element to come to New Mexico," said Errol Chavez, director of the New Mexico High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area in Las Cruces.

Donald Gallegos, director of the New Mexico District Attorneys' Association, said even if the state passes a law to legalize medical marijuana, the federal government still considers the substance to be illegal.

He noted that other states, including California, have run into conflict with the feds when they moved to legalize the drug.

Sen. Steve Komadina, R-Corrales, who along with being a lawmaker is also a medical doctor, said he was originally opposed to legalizing marijuana. But Komadina said he's convinced the bill has enough protections to keep the drug from being abused.

"There's more control with this than when I write a prescription for Tylenol with codeine," Komadina said. "We know prescription drugs are abused just as much as illegal drugs. I think this is a bill that will not in any way allow criminal use."

The bill will now move to the Senate Judiciary Committee. If endorsed in that committee, it would then go to the full Senate for consideration.

The bill, SB231, can be found on the Internet at legis.state.nm.us.



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