A bill to legalize marijuana for some New Mexicans suffering severe medical
conditions cleared a Senate Committee on Thursday, though another drug bill
in Gov. Gary Johnson's drug-reform package hit a snag in a House committee.

Also on Thursday, a state anti-drug group announced the results of a
statewide poll on drug laws that contradicts a poll taken last year by an
pro-drug-reform group.

The Senate Public Affairs Committee voted unanimously to recommend Senate
Bill 8, sponsored by Sen. Roman Maes, D-Santa Fe.

The bill, virtually identical to one passed by the full Senate last year,
would set up a state program in which patients would be certified by the
state to receive marijuana grown by a "secure" state- approved facility.

Earlier this week, several committee members killed a section of the bill
that would have allowed patients to grow their own marijuana.

The House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee on Thursday tripped up a
separate part of the drug-reform package: giving judges more authority to
determine the sentences handed down to habitual criminals.

The panel voted to "temporarily table" Rep. Kenny Martinez's proposal in
the face of opposition from the state's district attorneys, so Martinez,
D-Grants, can decide whether he wants to make changes to his proposal (HB26).

"They smoked Kenny's bill," said Rep. Joe Thompson, R-Albuquerque, of the
committee's action.

Martinez's bill seeks to give judges the power to determine whether the
state's habitual-sentencing enhancements - extra jail time given to repeat
offenders - is warranted on a case-by-case basis.

According to Martinez, the discretion to levy the habitual-offender
enhancements currently lies primarily with district attorneys.

"This provision will put more violent offenders on the street," said Matt
Sandoval, the district attorney in the Las Vegas, N.M., area and the
president of the New Mexico District Attorney's Association.

Sandoval argued that district attorneys are more accountable to the public
than judges because district attorneys must run for re- election. State
district judges are required to stand for retention, running on their
records rather than against a partisan opponent.

However, proponents say there's less chance for back-room deals if the
power lies with the judge rather than the prosecutor.

"It's simply a recognition that in a democracy, decisions are made in the
most public forum possible," said former state District Judge Joe Caldwell,
who supports Martinez's bill.

At a news conference attended by several state and local law- enforcement
officials - plus Republican gubernatorial candidates Rep. Rob Burpo and
Rep. John Sanchez, both of Albuquerque - the group Protect New Mexico
released the results of a poll conducted of 400 likely voters last week.

The poll was conducted by McLaughlin & Associates, a conservative Virginia
firm whose clients include the National Republican Congressional Committee
and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

According to the poll, 41 percent of those responding said illegal- drug
use by children would increase "a lot" and 27 percent said it would
increase "somewhat" if the state "decriminalizes the punishment for using
illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and heroin."

Johnson's drug-reform package does not include bills to decriminalize
cocaine or heroin.

The poll found 67 percent oppose decriminalizing marijuana when told that a
federal study showed drug use among teens had gone up in states that had
eased penalties and that in Nevada, one of those states, "drug use among
children is 40 percent higher than the national average."

The poll showed respondents are 72 percent less likely to support
candidates for state offices who voted to ease penalties for those
possessing "hard drugs" and 39 percent less likely to vote for candidates
voting in favor of a medical-marijuana bill.

The poll conflicts with one done last year by the Research & Polling
company of Albuquerque for the Lindesmith Center, a group pushing for drug
reform. That poll showed a majority supporting the concepts of
decriminalizing marijuana and putting more emphasis on treatment than
arrests for harder drugs.

That poll showed 80 percent in favor of medical marijuana.


Newshawk: Sledhead
Pubdate: Fri, 25 Jan 2002
Source: Santa Fe New Mexican (NM)
Copyright: 2002 The Santa Fe New Mexican
Contact: letters@sfnewmexican.com
Website: http://www.sfnewmexican.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/695
Cited: http://www.protectnewmexico.org/
Authors: Steve Terrell and Jonathan Mcdonald