Health Department asks for comment on medical marijuana regs

December 03, 2007

Associated Press, Las Cruces Sun-News (NM)

SANTA FE -- Patients, caregivers or private entities could get licenses from the state Department of Health to provide marijuana under New Mexico's medical marijuana program, according to proposed regulations released by the department.

The proposed rules would establish a regulated system for the licensure, distribution and manufacture of medical marijuana.

The department plans to publish the rules for public comment later this month, and a public hearing will follow in Santa Fe on Jan. 14. Department spokeswoman Deborah Busemeyer said the timeline for developing formal rules will depend on the comments received.

"It's a complicated and important program and we want to do this thoughtfully and carefully," she said Monday, adding that the public comment period will be an important part of the process.

The state law that took effect this summer 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.

Since the law took effect July 1, the department has certified 74 patients as eligible to possess marijuana. That protects the individuals from state prosecution, but leaves them to find their own  supply of marijuana potentially growing it themselves or obtaining it from friends or drug dealers.

Under the proposed rules, the department would provide for several different kinds of licensed producers, including a qualified patient, a caregiver, a state-owned or operated facility or a private entity.

"We're outlining a variety of options," Busemeyer said.

Reena Szczepanski, a lobbyist for Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico who helped push the legislation through, said she had not yet reviewed the regulations but she was pleased to hear about the different levels of licensed producers and distributors.

"It's really great because it allows for some flexibility and it allows for different patient population's needs to be met," she said.

The regulations also spell out the department's monitoring and corrective action authority and the requirements for those wanting a license, such as criminal background checks and facility security measures.

The one thing the proposed regulations do not address is the threat of federal prosecution for marijuana possession or distribution.

"Unfortunately, we can't change federal law and there is still a conflict with federal and state law. The regulations only spell out what is allowed or not allowed under state law," Busemeyer said.

In August, the department had announced that it would not implement the law's provisions for the agency to oversee the production and distribution of marijuana to eligible patients because of concerns over the potential for federal prosecution against state employees.

But Richardson, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, had ordered the department to continue planning for the program.

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

"It's precedent setting," Busemeyer said of New Mexico's program, "and that's why we need to be really careful in how we proceed."

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