New Mexico Senate approves medical marijuana

January 31, 2006

Walter Rubel, Farmington Daily Times

Senate President pro tem Ben Altamirano, D-Silver City, said Tuesday that if he or a member of his family were critically ill and needed marijuana to ease their suffering, he would find whatever he could on the illegal market.

“If I was suffering and needed some help tomorrow, I would go out and make every effort to get marijuana to help me and members of my family,” he said.

Under a bill passed Tuesday by the Senate, he wouldn’t have to. On a 34-6 vote, the Senate approved a bill that would allow for the use of marijuana by those suffering from critical illnesses, if approved by a qualified practitioner.

The bill would create a new advisory board under the Department of Health that would issue recommendations for registry cards for qualified patients, determine an adequate amount of the drug and develop a system for producing and distributing it.
The bill now moves over to the House, which must also give its approval before it would be sent to Gov. Bill Richardson for his signature.

Those who opposed the bill said it would send the wrong message to youngsters and would fly in the face of a Supreme Court decision against a similar law in California.
Janet Redford, 75, of Farmington said she was concerned that if the law passed, it would open the door for abuse of the substance.

“I truly don’t know how some of these families deal with it,” she said.

But those arguments were outweighed by those who said the drug would save lives and help those in their final days have a better quality of life.

Local resident Brenda Purcell, 48, of Farmington, said, “I do (support it) for cancer patients. If they say it’s going to help them, I’m for it.”

Sen. Diane Snyder, R-Albuquerque, drew from her own experiences with the death of her father last year from Parkinson’s disease. She said he was so drugged up at the end that she and her family felt they had been robbed of a chance to truly be with him in his final days. She said those who used marijuana to ease their pain did not lose their ability to communicate with family members.

“If you’ve ever seen pain like that, and I hadn’t until then, you will do anything you can to stop that pain,” she said.

Sen. Tim Jennings, R-Roswell, talked about his experience in helping his wife deal with breast cancer. He said that for those cancer patients who are required to ingest chemotherapy drugs orally, the ability to digest and keep those drugs down can be a matter of life and death.

Sen. Carroll Leavell, R-Jal, was one of six senators to vote against the bill.

“My problem goes to the message we are sending to the young people of our state,” he said.

He noted that the Supreme Court, in a 6-3 vote last June, ruled against the California law in Raich v. Gonzales.

Farmington Police Sgt. Dan Calkins said the department will stand by the decisions made by the legislature.

“We elect officials to create laws,” he said. “We can only enforce the laws as a police department.”

Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, who sponsored the bill passed Tuesday, said that case was brought by Angel Raich, a patient who had been growing marijuana under the California law.

“The federal government has never prosecuted anybody for using medical marijuana,” McSorley said.

Sen. Steve Komadina, R-Corrales, who along with being a senator is also a medical doctor, said the controls the state would have under this bill are greater than those for other prescription medication such as codeine.

He said a patient would only be allowed to used medical marijuana if referred by a practitioner who is licensed to prescribe narcotics, and then only with the approval of the new board. Unlike the California law, patients would not be allowed to grow their own marijuana. The state would be responsible for its production and distribution.

The bill would not allow those under the influence of the drug to drive a vehicle and would prohibit its use at schools, the workplace and other public areas.

“Anyone who wants to abuse marijuana will hate this bill, because it in no way allows the abuse of anything,” Komadina said.

He noted that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved marinol, a drug that contains elements of cannabis, for use in treatment of those suffering from critical diseases, but still claims that marijuana has no medicinal use.

“You can’t have it both ways,” Komadina said.

McSorley noted that New Mexico allowed medical marijuana in the 1980s, but the program was phased out due to lack of funding. The bill at that time was named for Lynn Pierson, a Vietnam veteran who died of cancer. This bill also carries Pierson’s name, as well as Erin Armstrong, a young cancer victim.

She said she is hopeful the House will follow the Senate’s lead.

“We’re hoping that the House shows the same caring and consideration and compassion that the Senate just did because we need it to stay alive,” added Essie DeBonet, 61. “Erin is on her way up. She’s just starting out. I am on my way out.”
The bill is SB258, and can be found on the Internet at legis.state.nm.us


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