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When Gov. Gary Johnson leaves office at the end of the year, the chances
for drug-law reform in New Mexico may go with him.

Gubernatorial candidates from both major parties say they are opposed to
the platform of drug reforms backed by the current governor and would
likely veto any drug decriminalization bills passed by the state
Legislature during their potential administrations.

The only Democrat on the ballot, Bill Richardson, said he is "flatly
opposed" to the legalization of drugs. "The crusade for drug reform is not
on my priority list at all," he said.

The drug-reform pendulum has swung so sharply that one gubernatorial
candidate, state Rep. Rob Burpo, R-Albuquerque, said he will impose
mandatory drug-testing on himself and his Cabinet, if elected.

In 2001, Burpo unsuccessfully pushed a bill in the state Legislature to
require random drug testing of state lawmakers.

"People ought to have faith that the people making laws and signing bills
into law are doing it with a clear head," Burpo said. At least one of
Burpo's primary opponents, Lt. Gov. Walter Bradley, is on record supporting
drug-tests for public officials.

Burpo said his comments about mandatory drug-testing of his Cabinet were
not a swipe at Johnson, who has admitted he has used marijuana and cocaine.

Richardson said "too much attention has been paid to the
legalization-of-drugs issue." He said New Mexico's focus should be on
education, health care and jobs, but indicated he would support more
treatment options for drug addicts.

The Democratic candidate also said he would consider supporting the use of
medical marijuana if scientific evidence convinced him of its value. The
question of medical marijuana is where Richardson and the Republican
candidates most obviously split. While Richardson left the door open for
possibly supporting medical cannabis, the Republican candidates say they
wouldn't back such a reform.

Burpo and Rep. John Sanchez, R-Albuquerque, both said prescription medicine
is available that allows patients to use marijuana's active chemicals
without having to smoke the drug.

Lt. Gov. Walter Bradley said he views legalizing medical marijuana as a
federal issue and wouldn't support a state law allowing the use of pot for
health reasons. "I would not want to authorize something that would put New
Mexicans in jeopardy of violating federal law," Bradley said.

Dave Miller, Johnson's legislative liaison, said it's easy for politicians
running for office to say they are against major reforms to the state's
drug laws, but when one of them wins the election, the individual will face
a situation that mandates change.

"Whomever is the next governor, they're going to have full prisons and a
high rate of infectious disease" among intravenous drug users, Miller said.
"The last time I checked, the Democrats are not real big on building prisons."

Miller said the state has 13,000 heroin addicts. Thirty-five percent of
hepatitis and AIDS infections are caused by drug users sharing dirty
needles. And between 10 percent and 20 percent of the state prison
population is behind bars for drug possession or on trafficking charges, he

The situation mandates reform, Miller argued. And he predicted that when
Johnson leaves office - and no longer provides a lightning rod for
opposition to drug reforms - New Mexico's drug policy will be changed.

Johnson, who has been in the national spotlight for his support of drug
reforms, won't leave the cause when he leaves office, Miller said.

Miller didn't have any specifics, but said he was "confident (Johnson) will
find a role immediately after leaving office, providing voice and
leadership on the national level" to the drug-reform movement

Pubdate: Sun, 21 Apr 2002
Source: Santa Fe New Mexican (NM)
Copyright: 2002 The Santa Fe New Mexican
Contact: letters@sfnewmexican.com
Website: santafenewmexican.com | News, opinion and sports from Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico
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