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Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Plan for Medical Marijuana Tabled

By S.U. Mahesh
Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE Proposed legislation to let certain patients use marijuana for medical purposes was temporarily tabled in a Senate committee on Tuesday after lawmakers disagreed about who should grow and dispense the drug.
    Sen. Roman Maes, D-Santa Fe, who is carrying the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act, has proposed letting eligible patients grow their own marijuana.
    That proposal drew strong criticism from Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Public Affairs Committee who argued that the provision could be abused.
    "I'd feel a lot better if the physicians prescribed (marijuana). It's too open now," said Sen. Mary Jane Garcia, D-Doña Ana, a ranking Democrat on the Public Affairs Committee. "I don't want to see (marijuana plants) in everybody's back yard."
    Similar sentiments were shared by other lawmakers on the committee who amended the bill on a 6-2 vote to remove the "self-growing provision" from the bill.
    The provision would have allowed qualified patients to grow three mature and four immature marijuana plants in their homes, along with possession of up to one ounce of marijuana.
    Sen. Rod Adair, R-Roswell, another member on the committee, recommended having a state agency or a university grow and dispense marijuana.
    "I voted for this bill last year," Adair said. "I am just uncomfortable with (marijuana) plants grown around the state."
    Last year, Maes carried a similar bill allowing patients to grow their own marijuana. But it was again amended to let the Department of Health grow and distribute marijuana to qualified patients suffering from AIDS, cancer and other terminal illnesses.
    Sen. Allen Hurt, R-Waterflow, opposed having a state agency grow and dispense marijuana.
    Hurt contended that it would be a lot easier for patients to grow their own marijuana than to have the state cultivate the drug behind "chain link fence with armed guards," which he called a "big dog and pony show."
    The committee temporarily tabled the bill and plans to consider who should grow and dispense marijuana at a later date.
    The committee also invited public comment from both supporters and opponents of the proposed bill.
    Jack Kaplan, an Edgewood resident who tested positive for HIV and Hepatitis C, urged the committee to approve the measure. "I only ask, I only seek the best quality of life," Kaplan said.
    Darren White, executive director for Protect New Mexico and former public safety secretary who is opposed to the bill, said there needs to be more research done on the issue before allowing patients to use marijuana.
    Several law-enforcement agencies and the New Mexico District Attorney's Association also oppose the proposed legislation.