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Friday, March 7, 2003

House Rejects Medical Marijuana

By Barry Massey
The Associated Press
    SANTA FE The House rejected a proposal Thursday that would have allowed marijuana to be used for medical purposes by people with debilitating illnesses.
    The measure would have covered patients seriously ill with cancer, glaucoma, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, HIV or AIDS and certain spinal cord injuries. Those patients or their caregivers would have been protected from prosecution under state law for possession or use of marijuana.
    Opponents said a law permitting the use of marijuana even for a medical purpose sent a wrong message to youth.
    "We are legalizing marijuana by passing this bill. The door is being opened to full-blown legalization," said Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-San Juan Pueblo.
    District attorneys and law enforcement groups opposed the legislation.
    The bill was rejected 46-20.
    Medical marijuana legislation was part of former Gov. Gary Johnson's proposals for overhauling New Mexico's drug laws. In 2001, the House and Senate approved separate bills to permit the medical use of marijuana but never agreed on the same version of the proposal.
    Supporters said medical marijuana should be allowed for serious illnesses.
    "This bill is not about the abuse of drugs. It's about putting drugs to a beneficial use," said Rep. W. Ken Martinez, D-Grants.
    Eight states allow the use of marijuana as medicine: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, Nevada and Washington.
    Under the legislation, a doctor would have been required to certify that someone suffered from a qualifying illness. The patient could have registered with the state Health Department, which would have issued an identification card.
    It would have been up to the patients to get the marijuana. The state would not have been a producer or distributor.
    Opponents said a user of medical marijuana even if it was permitted under New Mexico law could be subject to federal drug charges.