SANTA FE - A bill to legalize medical marijuana got off to a lackluster
start in its first legislative committee hearing.

The House Consumer and Public Affairs tied 4-4 Thursday on a vote to pass
the bill, then voted unanimously to send House Bill 242, sponsored by
Grants Democrat Ken Martinez, on with without recommendation.

Martinez's bill would legalize the use of a limited amount of marijuana for
medical patients with debilitating diseases. Patients would be allowed to
possess a small amount and grow a limited number of plants to use.

The committee's action does allow the bill to live another day. It has two
more House panels - the Business and Industry and the Judiciary committees
- - to get through before it reaches the House floor.

The measure drew emotional appeals from one longtime sufferer from HIV and
a painful neuropathic syndrome.

David Obell of Santa Fe told the committee he had problems keeping a
healthy weight and that his feet felt "like walking on sticks, or pins and

Smoking marijuana, he said, would improve his appetite, help him sleep and
relieve some pain.

"Smoking for me would not be recreation," Obell said. "It would be for

Martinez's bill is a slightly stricter version of one that passed the House
last year, but died on the Senate floor.

That bill's sponsor, Albuquerque Republican Joe Thompson, said Martinez's
bill is much better because it includes more safeguards, and removes
questions about cultivation and sale of marijuana.

Medical marijuana bills have a long history in New Mexico.

A sponsor of a bill from 1978, former House Majority Leader David Salman,
was on hand to support Martinez's proposal.

The new bill is named after Lynn Pierson, a Vietnam veteran and cancer
sufferer who came to the Roundhouse in 1978 to legalize a practice that
helped him endure his chemotherapy.

"He was very disturbed that he was doing something that was against the
law," Salman said. "Lynn died before he was able to smoke a little
marijuana, which is a great tragedy. It's not about drugs. It's about
compassion for a suffering human being."

The bill was opposed by law enforcement groups that fear the bill would put
the state crosswise with federal drug enforcement law.

"Federal law is still in effect," said Mike Bowen, a lobbyist for the State
Police Association and the Municipal Chiefs of Police.

He said the distribution and growing of marijuana will still create
problems for state law enforcement officers.

Seven other states have passed similar legislation, Martinez said.

A representative from Colorado's Department of Public Health was on hand to
offer her guidance and support for the bill.

In that state, 240 patients have gone through a registration process with
physicians who in turn are certified by the state to prescribe the use of

"There have been no federal reprisals for patients or doctors," Gail
Kelsey, administrator for Colorado's medical marijuana program, said.

Pubdate: Fri, 07 Feb 2003
Source: Albuquerque Tribune (NM)
Copyright: 2003 The Albuquerque Tribune