Drug-policy official fails to sway New Mexico Senate
January 29, 2006
Steve Terrell, New MexicanThe Bush administration got involved in New Mexico’s medical marijuana issue Friday, sending a top drug-policy administrator to testify against SB158. But David W. Murray, a special assistant to national drug czar John Walters, had little or no effect on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which gave the measure a do-pass with bipartisan support.
And some senators said Murray’s presentation was heavy-handed .
Murray told the committee that marijuana is an addictive substance with very serious health consequences , has no proven medical value and can lead to “serious mental illness ,” depression and suicide.
He likened medical-marijuana proponents to “medicine shows, traveling charlatans and snake-oil salesmen” selling phony “tinctures, magical herbs and remedies.” Murray said medical marijuana is an issue that has been brought forth not by the medical profession but by advocates of drug legalization.
“They use emotion, they use suffering patients, they use anecdote,” he said. And in a statement that some committee members criticized, Murray added: “I regard much of that as cynical and manipulative.”
Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen , took him to task for those words, pointing out that sponsors of crime legislation often bring victims of crimes to testify without being called “cynical and manipulative .”
“I don’t know how you do it back East,” Sanchez told Murray, “But this is the people’s house. Everybody has a right to be here just as much as you do. When you said this to us, you showed us where you were really at. I don’t think you should go to a state and say such things about their people.”
Some of Murray’s toughest criticism came from Republicans on the Judiciary Committee.
Noting his argument that marijuana has no medicinal value, Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis , said, “We are not talking about the healing power of marijuana. The purpose of this is to reduce pain.”
Murray noted that the federal Food and Drug Administration has not approved marijuana for medical treatment. The FDA, not politicians, should make some determinations, he said.
Sen. Rod Adair, R-Roswell , disputed statements by Murray and some state law-enforcement representatives that medical marijuana will increase use of the drug. He compared the bill to the concealed-carry law, which lets people apply for permits to carry hidden guns. Some opponents said that law would give criminals the right to carry concealed weapons.
“But robbers are already doing that,” Adair said. Likewise, those who smoke marijuana illegally are doing so without a medical-marijuana law, he said.
Sen. John Grubesic, D-Santa Fe, told Murray he had a hard time accepting the claim that medical marijuana is “the huge bogey man you want it to be.”
But Sen. Bill Payne, R-Albuquerque , said the bill boils down to a state challenge of the federal Controlled Substances Act and “whether or not the government has the right to control drugs.”
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque , responded that all it does is tell a small number of medical patients that the state will not prosecute them for using marijuana.
The measure goes on to the Senate floor, where a spokesman for the Senate said it could be heard as early as Tuesday. Last year, a similar bill that the Senate passed died in the House.
SB158 would let patients with debilitating medical conditions, including cancer and AIDS, use marijuana to treat pain and nausea caused by serious diseases and in some cases the side effects of treatment for those diseases.
The state Department of Health would administer a program under which doctors would be allowed to recommend marijuana for their patients. The marijuana used in the program would be grown in a secure facility by the state or a private agency contracting with the state.
Contact Steve Terrell at 986-3037 or sterrell@sfnewmexican .com.