Pubdate: Mon, 13 Aug 2007
Source: El Paso Times (TX)
Copyright: 2007 El Paso Times
Author: Diana Washington Valdez
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


Medicinal Marijuana Users Face Challenges in NM

The New Mexico Health Department has approved its first applications 
from patients whose doctors prescribed medicinal marijuana under the 
state's new law. Under the new statute, approved applicants are 
entitled to a designated dosage of marijuana.

But there's a hitch.

It's up to the patients to figure out how and where to get the 
marijuana. This is because the state has not carried out the second 
phase of the law, due Oct. 1, which is distribution and production of cannibis.

Also, federal laws against possession of marijuana are still in 
effect, and even state health employees could face prosecution.

"We guarantee patients with medical marijuana will not be prosecuted 
under New Mexico state law, but we can't do anything about federal 
law," said Deborah Busemeyer, spokeswoman for the New Mexico Health 
Department in Santa Fe.

Three weeks ago, the state appointed eight doctors to its new Medical 
Advisory Committee to help come up with the rules for the Medical 
Cannabis Program.

The board-certified doctors also will review the state's decisions on 
all patient applications, as well as conduct hearings to recommend 
whether more medical conditions should be considered for the program. 
"These highly qualified physicians will help guide the department as 
we continue to develop a program that will help people who suffer 
from debilitating conditions," said Dr. Alfredo Vigil, the state's 
health secretary.

The conditions that qualify for use of medicinal marijuana include 
cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, nerve 
damage of the spinal cord with "intractable spasticity (spasms)," and 
any terminal illness in a patient admitted to hospice care.

To obtain permission, a primary care doctor must certify that the 
patient has a debilitating condition and that the benefits outweigh 
the potential risks.

The state provides patients with ID cards that protect them against 
state prosecution for what is considered a three-month supply.

"The doctors must be licensed to practice in the state and the 
patients must live in New Mexico," Busemeyer said.

Since the program went into effect in July, nearly 50 people have 
applied for permission to possess medicinal marijuana.

The New Mexico Health Department received 48 applications, approved 
24 and denied five. Other applications are pending or were 
incomplete. Patients can apply online at

The Drug Enforcement Administration will continue to enforce federal 
laws against possession of marijuana, regardless of New Mexico's new 
law, said Matthew Taylor, spokesman for the DEA in El Paso.

"The DEA's position is that there is no legitimate medical use for 
medical marijuana," Taylor said. "It is still a Schedule 1 drug, and 
we will enforce the controlled-substance laws as dictated by Congress."

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy in Washington 
sent representatives to New Mexico to lobby against the law.

The office of John P. Walters, the nation's drug czar, posts on its 
Web site information against the use of marijuana.

The site's "mythbusters" section also addresses potential addiction 
and other health problems related to cannabis.

"Scientific research has shown that marijuana use can indeed lead to 
dependency and addiction ... the consequences of marijuana use, 
including changes to the brain, (are) problems with learning, effects 
on mental health, and lung and respiratory damage," according to the 
White House Web site.

Reena Szczepanksi, director of New Mexico's Alliance for Drug Policy, 
which lobbied for the medicinal marijuana law, said it took seven 
years for the Legislature to pass it.

"The final vote in the Senate was 32-3 in favor and in the House 
36-31, and, of course, the governor signed the bill into law (in 
April)," she said.

Szczepanksi said she believes patient testimonies, especially 
regarding young people with cancer, helped sway the lawmakers.

Busemeyer said the New Mexico Health Department is waiting to hear 
back from the state Attorney General's Office on "how to proceed with 
implementing the second phase of the state law -- developing a 
production and distribution system."

An earlier effort to decriminalize marijuana use in New Mexico, 
dating back to former Gov. Gary Johnson's term, failed to garner 
enough support despite Johnson's active support.

Under Gov. Bill Richardson, the New Mexico Legislature was able to 
pull together enough votes to adopt the medical marijuana law.

Marijuana became illegal after the U.S. government passed the 
Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Other countries eventually also outlawed 
the recreational use and possession of cannabis.

Before that, the plant was widely used as a pain reliever and to 
treat various ailments.

According to NORML, a national organization that advocates 
decriminalizing marijuana and supports medical marijuana laws, 12 
other states also permit medicinal uses of cannabis: Alaska, 
California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, 
Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Most of these states allow patients to grow their own, or in some 
cases, permit for small-scale vendors to provide up to four patients 
with marijuana.

San Francisco has informal medicinal marijuana smoking parlors, but 
police are cracking down on them because of suspicions they are used 
for recreational instead of medical purposes.

According to the Associated Press, federal agents raided 10 medicinal 
marijuana clinics in Los Angeles two weeks ago, and arrested the 
owners and managers, but not the patients.

Under its new law, New Mexico has the additional charge of developing 
a production and distribution system for the marijuana, but state 
Attorney General Gary King's office warned health officials in an 
Aug. 6 letter that his staff cannot protect state health employees if 
the federal government goes after them.

A letter from King to health officials also reminded them that the 
U.S. Supreme Court has upheld that the production and distribution of 
marijuana for medical use is illegal.

Theoretically, the state could contract with local growers or other suppliers.



Eligible conditions are cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, 
epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, nerve damage of the spinal cord with spasticity 
(involving spasms), and terminal illness in a patient who is admitted 
to hospice care.

Applicants must live in New Mexico.

Only a doctor licensed in New Mexico can prescribe medicinal marijuana.

At this time, patients are on their own finding a marijuana supply.

The New Mexico law does not exempt patients from federal laws against 
possession of marijuana.

The state's next phase is to develop a production and distribution 
system for medicinal marijuana.

Patients can submit applications online at

Additional sources to research: Alliance of Drug Policy,; NORMAL,; DEA,; White 
House Office of National Drug Control Policy, 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake