Local doctors to have say in medical marijuana program

July 25, 2007

, The New Mexican

Two Santa Fe physicians have been appointed to an eight-member medical-advisory committee that will help guide the Health Department’s new Medical Cannabis Program.

Dr. Timothy Lopez, an oncologist at the Cancer Institute of New Mexico, and Dr. William Johnson, a psychiatrist at Su Vida, will serve on the advisory committee with Dr. Erin Bouquin, a family-medicine physician at Los Alamos National Laboratory; Dr. Elaine Edmonds, a neurologist in Albuquerque; Dr. Eve Elting, an internal-medicine physician in Truth or Consequences; Dr. Eve Espey, a gynecologist in Albuquerque; Dr. Mitchell Simson, an internal-medicine physician in Albuquerque; and Dr. Karla Thornton, an infectious-disease specialist in Albuquerque.

A new state law, which went into effect July 1, legalized the medical use and possession of marijuana for people suffering from debilitating health conditions. Qualifying conditions are cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with intractable spasticity, epilepsy and HIV/AIDS. Hospice-care patients with a terminal illness also may apply.

Patients must have their condition certified by a physician and fill out an application with the Department of Health before they can be considered for participation in the program.

So far, the Department of Health has signed off on 10 out of 29 patient applications and denied five. Two applications are pending and 12 are incomplete.

Approved patients get an identification card that protects them from state prosecution for possessing up to 6 ounces of medical marijuana, four marijuana plants and three seedlings — what the Health Department describes as a three-month supply. The card cannot protect people from federal prosecution, however.

In its twice-a-year public hearings, the medical advisory committee will evaluate patients’ petitions to add to the list of qualifying medical conditions and review the Department of Health's application decisions. The first meeting is tentatively set for August.

Even though 12 states now have medical-marijuana laws, the herb is not recognized on the federal level as a medicine and is considered illegal.

At this time, the state Health Department has not worked out a production and distribution system, the second phase of the state law. The department is waiting for the Attorney General’s Office to provide an opinion on that issue. No other state with a medical-marijuana law has put a state agency in charge of licensing growers and distributors.

Applications are available at www.nmhealth.org. For more information, call Melissa Milam at 827-2321.



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