Medical marijuana not in future

March 08, 2007

Diana M. Alba, Almogordo Daily News

SANTA FE All eyes in the House were fixed intently on a marquee as the votes slowly wracked up for the second time in one night on a measure to legalize marijuana for medical use.

"Yeas" at first outnumbered the "nays" during the 30-second span lawmakers had to cast a vote Thursday night, but were soon edged out, leaving the final tally 33-36. The bill had failed.

Just minutes earlier, a vote on the same bill had resulted in a tie, with three members absent from the House chambers.

Through a procedural move, Majority Floor Leader Ken Martinez, D-Grants, brought the measure back for a second consideration.

Round two saw three members flip-flop: Rep. Thomas Swisstack, D-Rio Rancho, voted yes after previously voting no, while Rep. Richard Vigil, D-Ribera, and Rep. Thomas Garcia, D-Ocate, voted no after previously voting yes.

The three lawmakers absent in the first round made an appearance for the second vote. Two cast votes against the bill, while one was in favor.

The unusual episode was a fitting wrap-up to a debate that featured the unusual circumstance of lawmakers throwing party lines to the wind. Some Democrats spoke against medical marijuana use because it could send a negative message to children Some Republicans argued in favor of the bill because it could alleviate pain for sufferers of serious illness.

Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Ohkay Owingeh, was among those against the measure. Illegal drug use is a problem in her community, she said.

"I don't think there's anyone in my community that hasn't been affected by the drug problem we face," she said. "I think the bottom line is if we vote yes, we do send the wrong message to our children that pot is medicine, and it's not."

An outspoken supporter was Minority Whip Dan Foley, R-Roswell, who said he doubted an approval would lead to a spike in illegal marijuana use among children. He backed the measure because it could help people suffering from disease, he said.

"If someone is dying and someone is in pain Š who are we in this body to say no?" he said.

Rep. Antonio Lujan, D-Las Cruces, favored the bill.

"People should have a choice," he said. "If a person chooses that path as a treatment, they should have that choice."

Rep. Dianne Miller Hamilton, R-Silver City, objected to the measure because of the impact medical marijuana use might have on members of a patient's household.

"I'm worried about the second-hand effects Š on family members," she said.

Conditions that would have been treatable with marijuana included cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, epilepsy and AIDS, under the legislation. Patients would have had to seek approval from the state and carry a registration card in order to use medical marijuana.

The bill would have created an advisory board of doctors under the health department to approve and deny requests by patients.

Some lawmakers, including Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, spoke against the bill because it could have led to trouble with the federal government, which has ignored state laws allowing marijuana use for medical purposes and has continued to prosecute possession of marijuana in those instances.

The bill is Senate Bill 238.


Diana M. Alba can be reached at dalba@lcsun-news.com.



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