Pubdate: Tue, 16 Dec 2014
Source: New Mexican, The (Santa Fe, NM)
Copyright: 2014 The Santa Fe New Mexican
Author: Steve Terrell, The New Mexican
Page: A6


Budget Bill Sent to Obama Calls for Backing off State-Run Programs

For the first time ever, Congress has gone on record opposing federal 
intervention against state-sanctioned marijuana businesses in states 
like New Mexico that have medical marijuana programs.

The federal budget bill passed recently by Congress includes a short 
provision that says "None of the funds made available in this Act to 
the Department of Justice may be used ... to prevent such states from 
implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, 
distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana."

The Huffington Post called the measure "a historic blow to the United 
States' decades-long war on drugs," while Business Insider called it 
"a strange sort of armistice ... in its ongoing war on marijuana 
producers, sellers, and users."

And a New Mexico drug-reform advocate called it "a huge step 
forward." Emily Kaltenbach, executive director of Drug Policy 
Action's New Mexico off ice, said, "What's exciting is that this is 
the first time Congress has voted to let states set their own 
policies on medical marijuana ..."

The bill is awaiting the signature of President Barack Obama.

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., who voted for the budget bill, said through a 
spokeswoman that he supports the move to call off the dogs with 
regard to state medical marijuana programs.

"Except in cases where state action blatantly deprives people of 
their constitutional rights or puts them at risk, Sen. Udall doesn't 
think the federal government should attempt to overrule 
voter-approved laws," spokeswoman Jennifer Talhelm said in a written 
statement. "Neither of those circumstances is the case with medical 
marijuana laws. Americans are having a conversation about whether to 
de-criminalize marijuana at the state level, and Sen. Udall believes 
this provision lets that conversation continue."

Talhelm added that the provision "will allow the Justice Department 
to focus its efforts on criminal drug trafficking and other serious crimes."

The budget includes $245 million for the High Intensity Drug 
Trafficking Areas Program, which provides assistance to federal, 
state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in 
counties determined to be have major drug-trafficking activity. Santa 
Fe and Rio Arriba counties are among 16 New Mexico counties that are 
part of the program.

Kaltenbach said that New Mexico dispensaries, licensed growing 
operations and registered medical marijuana patients have not seen 
the type of federal crackdowns that other states like California and 
Montana have seen. But she said, Congress' action means patients as 
well as dispensary and state Health Department employees can "breathe 
a sigh of relief."

She added, "It's not a question of 'if,' but when the federal 
government ends marijuana prohibition."

The budget bill didn't exactly end the war on drugs. For one thing, 
the bill apparently blocked Washington, D.C.'s recent move to 
legalize recreational marijuana, a measure approved by about 70 
percent of voters.

The budget also earmarked $93. 5 million for the Drug-Free 
Communities program, which, according to its website, strives to 
divert nonviolent drug offenders into treatment instead of jail, 
funds scientific research on drug use and expands access to substance 
abuse treatment through the Affordable Care Act.

Other items in the budget that affect New Mexico include:

$324 million for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. Of that, $104 
million is for recovery from the radiation leak that occurred earlier 
this year.

$643 million B61 Life Extension Project at Los Alamos and Sandia 
national labs. The program maintains the country's nuclear weapons 
stockpile, repairing and replacing components of nuclear weapons. It 
also allows for the eventual elimination of the U.S.'s largest 
warhead, the B83, which was developed in the 1970s.

$190 million for environmental cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

$25 million increase in funding for STARBASE, a Department of Defense 
science and technology education program for fifth graders.

$23. 3 million for a Squadron Operations Facility at Cannon Air Force Base.

$20 million for Operationally Responsive Space at Kirtland Air Force Base.

$14 million for high energy laser research at Kirtland Air Force Base.

An additional $5 million for the Office of Veterans Affairs' 
inspector general to help eliminate long waits for appointments.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom