Medical marijuana: It's time to sanction it

February 06, 2006

EDITORIAL, Albuquerque Tribune

It wasn't billed as the session on drugs, but the New Mexico Legislature definitely has a full plate of proposed drug laws, several of which merit passage.

At the top of the list is the perennial effort to give state approval to the use of medical marijuana. Pass it, already.

Sanctioning the limited use of prescribed marijuana for the relief of pain or nausea - particularly in cancer patients, including those taking radiation or chemical therapy - is the right and humane thing to do, despite continuing federal efforts to keep it a crime. Eleven other states allow for medical marijuana.

If it provides relief - and the evidence is overwhelming that it does - and it can be medically prescribed, regulated and used in a safe manner, medical marijuana should be allowed in New Mexico. In fact, there really is no compelling state or federal reason to block its use.

On the other side of the drug fence, the Legislature is considering a broad measure that would crack down on the manufacture, use and abuse of methamphetamine. It, too, is overdue, for several good reasons.

Meth abuse is clearly on the rise and, like other drug abuse, is a threat to far more than the abusers and traffickers.

Dangerous meth labs, all too frequently set up in neighborhood houses where young children reside, represent a special threat to children and neighborhoods.

The problem is worthy of new state legislation that would impose more severe penalties for trafficking in meth, as well as a separate measure to restrict the sale of pseudoephedrine. This is a prime ingredient used by the makeshift labs to churn out the highly addictive meth. The Legislature would be wise to approve both measures, which aim to attack the supply of meth, making it more difficult and risky for meth producers.

Finally and unfortunately, legislative efforts to provide more money for drug abuse treatment was derailed last week, when about $2 million to fund it was stripped from the House version of the main budget bill. The Senate and Gov. Bill Richardson should restore the money to the state budget, because in addition to increasing penalties and attacking the street supply, the state should be doing more to help addicts kick the habit.

To realize how fruitful this path can be, state legislators need only read Tribune reporter Kate Nash's Saturday report, "Target: Meth." It details worthy efforts by former drug abuser Tani Gallup to set up a drug recovery house, Casa de Amigas, for women in Albuquerque.

"We really need the help in Albuquerque," says Gallup, noting that "there's a lot of people who want to get clean."

Meth is more than just a drug problem, and New Mexico officials will fight it best with a broad arsenal of laws and funding, including providing more deterrents and ways for those addicted to get the meth monkey off their backs.

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