A panel advising the governor on drug issues recommends allowing the
use of marijuana to treat pain and suffering associated with serious
illnesses and removing criminal penalties for those caught with small
amounts of marijuana for personal use.

The Governor's Drug Policy Advisory Group on Thursday released its
report outlining reforms to current state and federal drug policy. The
report will be reviewed by Gov. Gary Johnson, who has scheduled a news
conference for Friday to discuss the recommendations.

The report recommends the state develop a comprehensive drug, crime
and health plan that includes increased funding for drug treatment,
prevention and education; allows substance abuse treatment on request;
and implements drug sentencing reform.

State Health Secretary Alex Valdez, a member of the panel, said
medical marijuana could be used to treat such diseases as cancer and
HIV/AIDS. He said medical marijuana "is a compassionate tool which can
help people alleviate pain and suffering."

The report, given to Johnson on Wednesday, also recommended civil
penalties instead of criminal penalties for using marijuana in public
places and reducing some drug crimes from felonies to
misdemeanors.

For example, the panel suggested reducing first and second
drug-possession offenses to misdemeanors and removing criminal
penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana for personal use.
It also suggested automatic probation and substance abuse treatment
rather than jail time for such offenses.

The advisory board, in a letter to Johnson, said the recommendations
put priorities on "the health, safety and constitutional rights of New
Mexico citizens, families and communities."

Law enforcement officers have mixed feelings about decriminalizing
some drugs, said state Public Safety Secretary Nick Bakas, a former
Albuquerque Police Department officer and member of the board.

Still, he said, "I'm very encouraged that my colleagues are receptive
to this. They realize the obvious - that we are not going to arrest
ourselves out of this problem. We can't keep drugs out of maximum
security prisons. How are we going to keep them out of a free society?"

The panel also suggested so-called harm reduction policies, such as
the sale of clean needles to stem the transmission of diseases. And it
wants state lawmakers to look at what impact federal and state drug
policies have on New Mexicans' constitutional rights against unlawful
search and seizure.

Retired state District Judge Woody Smith, chairman of the advisory
group, said that when he was on the bench, "the policies we were
enforcing were failures. Nothing was getting better. When I was
appointed to this panel, I found out things were even worse than I
thought. We're spending up to $100 billion a year on a failed policy."

Albuquerque Mayor Jim Baca, a panel member, said more than 30 percent
of the city's budget goes to fight drugs.

"The war on drugs is a failure," Baca said. "Anybody who says it's not
a failure is not dealing with reality."

The other board members are Steve Bunch, director of the New Mexico
Drug Policy Foundation; Steve Jenison, a physician with the Infectious
Disease Bureau of the state Health Department; Norty Kalishman a
doctor with the McCune Charitable Foundation; U.S. District Judge John
Kane of Denver; State Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque; and Angie
Vachio, director of PB & J Family Services.

The report is the result of research at the Western Governors
Association Drug Policy Academy, an ongoing program under which six
western states and American Samoa have been developing drug control
policies and strategies to implement them.

Since 1978, New Mexico has had a law allowing medical marijuana - but
only within a formal research study. The state Health Department
oversaw a marijuana research program at the University of New Mexico a
number of years ago. It has not been funded since 1986.


Newshawk: DrugSense http://www.drugsense.org/
Pubdate: Fri, 05 Jan 2001
Source: Associated Press (US)
Copyright: 2001 Associated Press
Author: Chaka Ferguson, Associated Press Writer