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Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Measures

Associated Press / The Albuquerque Journal, March 3, 2005

by Deborah Baker, AP

SANTA FE The Senate has voted to allow patients with cancer and other debilitating diseases to legally use marijuana.

The Senate on Wednesday passed three bills, each of them establishing a program run by the state Department of Health. If any of the bills were to become law, New Mexico would join 10 other states that allow the medical use of marijuana.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, said his proposal would provide "one more opportunity for life for our loved ones."

It's not the first time lawmakers have dealt with the legislation and it wouldn't be the first such program in the state. In the late 1970s, New Mexico set up a program linking the medical use of marijuana with a research project, which eventually lost its funding and became defunct.

Former Gov. Gary Johnson, a Republican and a drug-reform proponent, pushed medical marijuana legislation. The House and Senate approved separate bills in 2001 but never agreed on the same version. It was tried again in 2002 in the Senate and in 2003 in the House, but it failed each time.

Proponents of the medical use of marijuana say it can ease pain, increase appetite and decrease nausea.

Two of the bills would restrict it to patients with cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, certain spinal cord damage, epilepsy and HIV-AIDS.

Under McSorley's bill, the Health Department would license producers to provide the marijuana, which would be grown in secure facilities. Patients whose doctors recommended it would apply to the department and, if approved by a review board of physicians, be registered to possess the drug.

Sen. Steve Komadina, R-Corrales, sponsored an alternative measure that would require the marijuana to be pharmaceutical grade, so that dosages would be consistent and regulated. That would rule out smoking it, although an atomizer or inhaler could be used, Komadina said.

The third bill, sponsored by Sen. Shannon Robinson, D-Albuquerque, would allow people with chronic or debilitating diseases marked by pain or severe muscle spasms to use marijuana only topically in a patch, lotion or gel, for example.

Opponents said the legislation ran afoul of the federal law on controlled substances and that the push for medical marijuana should be made at the federal level.

"At the end of the day, this is the wrong forum," said Sen. William Payne, R-Albuquerque.

Other critics said they were concerned the state would appear especially to young people to be promoting drug use.

"My question today . . . is what kind of message are we going to be sending," said Sen. Carroll Leavell, R-Jal, who voted against the three measures.

A spokesman for Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson said he was studying the bills and was encouraged by the safeguards they contained.

"For people who are living in a tremendous amount of pain as a result of life-threatening diseases, this is a treatment that they should be allowed to have," said Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for the governor.

With bipartisan backing, McSorley's bill passed on a vote of 27-11, Komadina's by 29-11, and Robinson's by 31-9.

McSorley's bill is SB795.

Komadina's bill is SB891.

Robinson's bill is SB492.

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