New Mexico Takes Up Medical Marijuana

Published April 1, 2005

New Mexico may become the eleventh state to allow seriously ill people to possess and use medical marijuana while it remains illegal under federal law.

Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington already have medical marijuana laws in place.

New Mexico Forges Ahead

In March, three bills were introduced in New Mexico’s State Senate to permit ill people to use marijuana therapeutically against symptoms of diseases such as cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and AIDS and the side effects of treatment efforts.

All three bills, each of which provides for oversight by the state’s Department of Health, passed.

State Senate Judiciary Chairman Cisco McSorley (D-Albuquerque) sponsored a bill proposing the drug be grown at a licensed secure facility and then distributed to registered patients who will be permitted to smoke it.

A second bill, sponsored by State Sen. Steve Komadina (R-Corrales), authorizes only pharmaceutical-grade marijuana manufactured by a drug company and made available in various forms, though not for smoking.

The third bill, introduced by Sen. Shannon Robinson (D- Albuquerque), advocates strictly topical use of cannabis, such as in an ointment or patch.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) released a statement saying, “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.”

Bruce Merkin, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States, said, “The developments in New Mexico are the logical extension of wide, deep, broad support for access to medical marijuana all across the country–a sign that politicians at least on a state level don’t need to be afraid.”

Supreme Court Considers Issue

Other states are moving forward on medical marijuana, while in the U.S. Supreme Court, questions of commerce and drug laws are debated as possibly outdated.

Earlier this year, Ohio State Sen. Robert Hagen (D-Youngstown) introduced Senate Bill 74 to protect medical marijuana users from criminal arrest and state prosecution.

Texas is considering a bill introduced in February that would allow people charged with possessing marijuana to show evidence in court that they use it therapeutically.

California introduced a pilot identification card program in March that would protect patients stopped by law enforcement officials by proving they have the right to possess the drug. Identification card programs are already in place in Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in the past that federal law makes no exceptions for growing or distributing marijuana for use as a medication to help those with grave diseases. In 2001, the Court refused to protect distributors who provided the drug to the seriously ill.

Recently, the Court considered testimony from sick residents of California whose home-grown cannabis was taken away by federal agents, even though the residents’ doctors had advised and approved their use of the drug and their state had given them permission to grow the drug to treat illness. Two extremely ill California women told their stories to the Court in March.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule in the case, Raich v. Ashcroft, as early as March 22.

Susan Konig ([email protected]) is managing editor of Health Care News.