Senate OKs medical marijuana bill

February 06, 2007

Walter Rubel, Current-Argus (NM)

SANTA FE — For the third year in a row, the Senate has passed a bill that would allow for the restricted medicinal use of marijuana.

The bill passed on a 34-7 vote Wednesday, and now moves to the House, where it has been defeated in each of the past two sessions.

To qualify for usage, a physician would have to certify that the patient is afflicted with one of a list of specific debilitating diseases and that the use of medicial marijuana could be beneficial. A physicians advisory board would then have to approve the certification. The Department of Health would be responsible to create rules for the provisions and distribution.

Sen. Carroll Leavell, R-Jal, said just because the state passes a law, it doesn't make marijuana use legal. Federal law outlawing marijuana would still take precedent, and people using medical marijuana would still be liable to federal prosecution, he said.

Sen. William Payne, R-Albuqueruqe, noted that the Supreme Court has ruled that medicial marijuana laws passed by the state are invalid.

That may be true, said Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, but he said the state was sending a message to the feds.

"I think what we're trying to say, when you're dying of cancer there may not be anything else that will let you eat a bite of food," he said.

Sen Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, whose wife is battling breast cancer, said that the use of medical marijuana allows some patients to keep their weight up and increase their chances of survival.

Leavell countered that drug abuse is a huge problem in New Mexico that would be made worse by the bill.

"This bill, if we pass it here, sends a very terrible message to the young people of New Mexico that the use of marijuana is somehow legal," Leavell said. Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort, R-Sandia Park, said she was concerned that the bill would lead to the kind of abuses that have happened with medical marijuana provisions in California. But the bill's sponsor, Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said New Mexico's law would be much different.

"We think we have provisions in the measure that would make it impossible for the abuses, or perceived abuses, that have taken place in California to happen here," Ortiz y Pino said.

Gov. Bill Richardson had said before Wednesday's debate that he supports the bill.

"I continue to support a medical marijuana bill that includes proper safeguards to prevent abuse," Richardson said. "I will work with legislators to get it passed this session to provide this option for New Mexicans suffering from debilitating diseases."

Walter Rubel can be reached at wrubel@lcsun-news.com



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