N.M. Planning Medical Marijuana Program

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
Gov. Bill Richardson ordered the state Health Department on Friday to resume planning of a medical marijuana program despite the agency's worries about possible federal prosecution.

However, the governor 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, and King has said federal authorities have prosecuted citizens for growing medical marijuana.

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.

Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos 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, but declined to say what.

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.

Also Friday, Richardson, a Democratic presidential candidate, sent a letter to President Bush urging the federal government to allow states like New Mexico to implement medical marijuana programs without fear of federal prosecution.

Such as exception would require Congress to approve legislation changing the law, Gallegos said.

Last month, the U.S. House rejected a proposal - on a 165-262 vote - that would have blocked the Justice Department from taking action against state medical marijuana programs, including New Mexico's.

Tom Riley, a spokesman for the White House drug policy office, said it's up to federal prosecutors and the Justice Department to decide what drug cases to prosecute.

"The federal government doesn't spend time prosecuting low-level marijuana possession cases. It's drug traffickers who go to jail and it's drug traffickers who get prosecuted," said Riley. "There is a charade going on here with people who are interested in drug legalization using genuinely sick people as pawns to get sympathy to get their agenda through."

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Source: Forbes.com
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Copyright: 2007 Forbes.com
Website: N.M. Planning Medical Marijuana Program
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