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SANTA FE -- The Senate on Tuesday voted to legalize the medical use of
marijuana by New Mexicans with debilitating illnesses.

The proposal -- part of Gov. Gary Johnson's package of drug reform
proposals -- was approved on a vote of 29-12. It goes to the House.

"We are trying to help very, very sick people... who are in deep pain, who
are having trouble coping with life," said Sen. Roman Maes, D-Santa Fe, the
bill's sponsor.

Maes estimated that between 100 and 200 people in the state may be able to
qualify for the program.

The Department of Health would create and administer the program, and
certify the patients who would be eligible.

Certified patients and their caregivers would be protected from criminal
prosecution for possessing the marijuana -- called "cannabis" in the bill.

The Senate adopted an amendment, however, that requires the program to be
administered in accordance with federal law. "Under federal law, we cannot
grow marijuana, distribute it or sell it," said Sen. William Payne,
R-Albuquerque, who proposed the change.

That appeared to preclude the Department of Health from distributing
marijuana, leaving patients to obtain it on their own, unless federal law
was changed.

Department officials said they would have to determine precisely what the
health agency could do in light of the amendment.

"I feel comfortable with the way the bill was passed out of the Senate,"
said Health Secretary Alex Valdez.

The bill had bipartisan support, with 20 Democrats and nine Republicans
voting for it. Eight Republicans and four Democrats opposed it.

Its supporters insisted that voting for the medical use of marijuana did
not signal support for Johnson's other drug proposals.

"This is not a drug issue. This is a medical issue," said Sen. Steve
Komadina, R-Corrales, a physician.

Doctors need another pharmacological weapon in their arsenals to treat
patients, he said.

"This is really about alleviating unnecessary suffering... something I went
into business to help prevent," said Sen. Allen Hurt, R-Waterflow, who is
also a physician.

Debilitating medical conditions include cancer, AIDS and glaucoma.
Patients' physicians would have to certify they had a condition that qualified.

An advisory board of nine physicians recommended by the New Mexico Medical
Society would advise the health department. The medical society endorsed
the legislation.

"Certainly I do not support the legalization of any drug," said Sen. Don
Kidd, R-Carlsbad. But he said he favored giving cancer patients in pain "a
little comfort and a few hours of peace."

Opponents said the program wasn't workable, flew in the face of federal
law, and was the first step toward more liberalized drug laws.

"The federal government hasn't cleared the way for anybody in America to
legally use marijuana," objected Sen. Kent Cravens, R-Albuquerque.

The Senate adopted a series of other changes aimed at tightening up the
bill -- requiring patients to have a photo ID, for example, and
ensuring that if federal law ever cleared the way for marijuana to be grown
for the program, it would be done in a secure facility.

But the Senate rejected a proposal to restrict the marijuana to forms other
than smoking -- such as pills or cream. It was offered by Sen. Ramsay
Gorham, R-Albuquerque, who said she was concerned that liberalizing drug
laws would lead to increased drug use by youngsters.

"This is the nose of the camel under the tent," Gorham said. Advocates of
medical marijuana will push for the legalization of heroin and cocaine, she

"I would like to have the ability to use the form that I think would help
my patient the most," Komadina said. The bill repeals a law that has not
been used in two decades, which allows the medical use of marijuana but
only in conjunction with a research program.

The Republican governor's other proposals include the decriminalization of
possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, reduced penalties for
possession of some other drugs, and an overhaul of the state's asset
forfeiture law.

"I do hope this is as far as we go," said Senate Republican Leader Stuart
Ingle of Portales, who voted for the bill.

Newshawk: Cannabis News - marijuana, hemp, and cannabis news
Pubdate: Tue, 06 Mar 2001
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2001 Albuquerque Journal
Contact: opinion@abqjournal.com
Address: P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, N.M. 87103
Website: The Albuquerque Journal
Author: Deborah Baker, The Associated Press
Bookmark: Overload Warning (Cannabis - Medicinal)
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