NM pushes marijuana program

August 19, 2007

Barry Massey, Associated Press

SANTA FE - Gov. Bill Richardson has ordered the state Health Department to resume planning of a medical marijuana program despite the agency's worries about possible federal prosecution.

However, the governor has stopped short of committing to implement a state-licensed production and distribution system for the drug if the potential for federal prosecution remains unchanged.

The department announced earlier this week that it would not implement the law's provisions for the agency to oversee the production and distribution of marijuana to eligible patients. That decision came after Attorney General Gary King warned that the department and its employees could face federal prosecution for implementing the law, which took effect in July.

The distribution and use of marijuana are illegal under federal law.

On Friday, Richardson directed the department to plan for full implementation of the program, such as preparing the regulations that will permanently govern how it operates.

Under the law, the department is to issue the rules by October, including for licensing marijuana producers and developing a system to distribute the drug to qualified patients.

However, Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for the governor, said a decision would be made later whether to implement the production and distribution system if federal prosecution remained possible.

Gallegos said the administration was pursuing possible "legal options" to allow the state to provide patients with access to medical marijuana. He said he couldn't provide details of what was being considered.

The new state law allows the use of marijuana for pain or other symptoms of debilitating illnesses such as cancer, glaucoma, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, HIV-AIDS and certain spinal cord injuries.

New Mexico is the 12th state to legalize marijuana for certain medical uses, but it's the only one calling for state-licensed production and distribution of the drug.

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