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Medical Marijuana Passes Senate

By Deborah Baker/
Associated Press
      SANTA FE — A proposal to allow certain patients to legally use marijuana under a state-run program passed the Senate and headed to the House.
    The proposal has the support of Gov. Bill Richardson, who has urged lawmakers to pass some measure before the annual legislative session ends March 17.
    Richardson says he supports a bill ''that includes proper safeguards to prevent abuse.''
    The bill creates a program run by the Department of Health in which patients with cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and other conditions, or in hospice care, could participate. They would need certification from their physicians.
    Supporters say the drug combats nausea and relieves other symptoms of cancer and other debilitating diseases.
    ''Sometimes there's nothing else in life that would let you eat a bite of food,'' said Senate Republican Leader Stuart Ingle of Portales, who voted for it.
    The measure passed the Senate 34-7 on Wednesday. The Senate has endorsed it the past two years, but it has failed to clear the House each time.
    Supporters estimate that between 50 and 200 New Mexicans could qualify for the program.
    Patients, who would be issued identification cards, would be protected from prosecution by state authorities for possessing or using the drug.
    But opponents argued that marijuana remains illegal under federal law, subjecting patients who use it to possible prosecution.
    ''Why aren't you going to Congress and asking them to change it. ... This is blatantly pre-empted by federal law,'' objected Sen. William Payne, R-Albuquerque.
    The health agency would devise the regulations for the program, and decide how the marijuana would be supplied and distributed. The bill calls for production facilities ''within New Mexico housed on secure grounds and operated by licensed producers.''
    The state had a program more than two decades ago that linked the medical use of marijuana with a research project. The project eventually lost its funding.


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