NM medical marijuana applications roll in

July 20, 2007

, Associated Press

Nearly two dozen New Mexicans have applied to use medical marijuana since the state this month began allowing people with certain debilitating conditions to use the drug for nausea.

As of Friday, the state Department of Health had received 22 applications for the program and had approved six. Three are pending and four others were denied because those people did not have a condition eligible for the program, said department spokeswoman Deborah Busemeyer.

The law, which went into effect July 1, allows the use of marijuana for specified conditions including cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and HIV-AIDS, as well as by some patients in hospice care.

Nine other applicants have been asked for more information, Busemeyer said.

New Mexico is the 12th state in the nation to legalize medical marijuana use but the only one that calls for state-licensed production and distribution of the drug.

The distribution and use of marijuana are illegal under federal law, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 in a California case that medical marijuana users can be prosecuted.

State health officials have asked state Attorney General Gary King whether Health Department employees could be federally prosecuted for running the registry and identification card program, and whether the agency can license marijuana producers and facilities.

The attorney general hasn't responded yet. Phil Sisneros, a spokesman for King, said the issue is a priority.

Busemeyer said the Health Department can't move ahead until it has an answer.

The law requires the department to issue rules by Oct. 1 for licensing marijuana producers within the state and for developing a distribution system. Doctors must certify that patients are eligible for the program.

Approved patients or their approved primary caregivers would receive temporary certificates allowing them to possess up to 6 ounces of marijuana, four mature plants and three immature seedlings. The department said that's about a three-month supply.

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