Pubdate: Wed, 26 Jul 2000
Source: Albuquerque Tribune (NM)
Copyright: 2000 The Albuquerque Tribune.
Author: Gilbert Gallegos


SANTA FE -- Whether it is medical marijuana or syringe-exchange programs, a 
drug-policy task force is considering evidence that such "harm reduction" 
programs are the way to go in New Mexico.

The idea, say its proponents, is to move away from a philosophy of zero 
tolerance for illegal drug use and focus instead on helping people addicted 
to those drugs.

But a critic of "harm reduction" programs claims nothing good will result 
from making drugs more available in a state already plagued with overdose 

A cancer patient made the case for medical marijuana during an emotional 
presentation Monday to the Governor's Drug Policy Advisory Group, a 
committee put together by Gov. Gary Johnson to study and recommend new 
strategies to tackle drug problems.

Vernon Jackman, a 59-year-old electrician from Taos, told the group he 
recently tried cookies made with marijuana for the first time to battle the 
side effects of chemotherapy. Jackman said he reluctantly switched from 
prescription medications -- one of which cost about $250 for 25 pills -- to 
illegal marijuana only after losing 50 pounds due to intense nausea and 

"I didn't want to be against the law," Jackman told the group, his voice 
trembling as he recounted his battle with lung cancer over the last four 

"But I was so sick, I would try anything. I was afraid I was going to die."

And he said the marijuana has done the trick so far, giving him an appetite 
and helping to reduce the nausea that went with the poisons doctors were 
injecting into his body to kill the cancer.

Former state District Judge W.C. "Woody" Smith, chairman of the advisory 
group, told Jackman he is one of many people who have suffered because of 
drug prohibition laws.

"You're a victim of what we're talking about," Smith told Jackman.

New Mexico has a law that allows, among other things, for medical marijuana 
to be used to relieve nausea caused by chemotherapy. But money to pay for 
the program was halted in 1986 by the Legislature.

Gov. Johnson has subtly retreated in recent months from constantly 
advocating for the legalization of marijuana to a more immediate goal of 
limiting the damage done by drug abuse.

Johnson, a Republican, has said he still favors legalizing marijuana. But 
he wants to start emphasizing "bottom-line" results that could be 
accomplished by harm-reduction policies.

But Rep. Ron Godbey, a critic of Johnson's drug-policy debate, said the 
governor is merely trying to soften his rhetoric with the ultimate goal of 
legalizing drugs.

In a draft copy of a position paper challenging Johnson's position on 
drugs, Godbey wrote: "They (drug-legalization advocates) use inoffensive 
terms, such as 'harm reduction' to wrap their ultimate objective in the 
cloth of acceptability."

Godbey, an Albuquerque Republican, said the paper he has written will be 
distributed soon to Republican officials around the state.

In the paper, Godbey refers to the medical use of marijuana as a "smoke 

"If the governor focuses on harm reduction in New Mexico, it would be an 
absolute disaster," Godbey said in an interview. "Every drug addict in the 
country would flock to here.

"I am sure such a scheme will be met with stiff resistance by the 
legislative body."

Maureen Rule, executive director of Healthcare for the Homeless, told the 
advisory group that critics often claim harm reduction is a euphemism for 
drug legalization.

But Rule, who also started the Harm Reduction Center in Albuquerque this 
year, said the idea works well for drug addicts who do not otherwise 
respond to all-or-nothing approaches.

She said taking a "smorgasbord" approach, such as offering a mix of 
detoxification, support groups, peer education, overdose prevention and 
syringe exchanges, works best -- even if it only produces small steps 
toward helping addicts get off drugs.

"I really believe people can make positive changes," Rule said.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D