Pubdate: Sun, 14 Aug 2016
Source: New Mexican, The (Santa Fe, NM)
Column: Roundhouse Roundup
Copyright: 2016 The Santa Fe New Mexican
Author: Steve Terrell


Marijuana is just one of many issues in which the government is so 
far behind the people, it's beyond funny.

The Drug Enforcement Administration proved this again just last week 
when it announced that after weeks of reviewing a petition to 
reclassify marijuana so it's no longer a Schedule 1 drug, along with 
heroin, Quaaludes and various psychedelics. Some who follow this 
issue were optimistic that the DEA might might actually reverse its 
long-held ironclad Reefer Madness policy. Perhaps the DEA would would 
reclassify marijuana as a Schedule 2 drug - along with cocaine and 
methamphetamine - or even lower.

But no. As far as the DEA is concerned, marijuana prohibition is 
alive and well.

In an interview with National Public Radio, DEA Administrator Chuck 
Rosenberg said, "This decision isn't based on danger. This decision 
is based on whether marijuana, as determined by the [Food and Drug 
Administration], is a safe and effective medicine, and it's not."

Thousands, maybe millions of patients in New Mexico and the other 25 
states (and the District of Columbia) with medical marijuana programs 
would strongly disagree.

During the state Legislature in February, a Santa Fe mechanic named 
Greg Vialpando gave emotional testimony that moved lawmakers from 
both parties. Shaking and supporting himself with a cane, he told the 
House Judiciary Committee about his back injury 15 years ago that 
caused him to have to go through eight back surgeries. Vialpando said 
he'd been prescribed a variety of narcotics through the years, but 
instead of easing his chronic pain, all they did was cause problems - 
sleep apnea, vitamin D deficiency, loss of appetite and depression. 
But, he testified, this changed in 2013, when he decided he was no 
longer going to use opiates and instead try medical marijuana, which 
he gets legally through the state's program.

The DEA is hardly the only institution hindering medical marijuana 
lately. As reported last week by my colleague Andrew Oxford, the 
DEA's decision came down a few days after an opinion from the New 
Mexico Bar Association's Ethics Advisory Committee about whether 
lawyers can represent state-sanctioned medical marijuana growers and 
dispensaries. The opinion can most accurately be described as wishy-washy.

"At one end of the spectrum, the committee is in general agreement 
that negotiating contracts for the purchase of cannabis would be 
directly assisting the client to engage in a criminal activity," the 
opinion said. "At the other end of the spectrum, some committee 
members opined that forming a general alternative medical business, 
which could possibly include the prescribing and distributing of 
medical cannabis, would not be such assistance."

Albuquerque lawyer and former member of the Public Regulation 
Commission Jason Marks told Oxford the opinion seems to limit the 
rights of growers and dispensaries, and could be depriving these 
businesses of their right to legal counsel. Marks, whose clients 
include some medical marijuana producers, said the state Supreme 
Court could clarify the issue by changing the state's rules of 
professional conduct for attorneys. This has happened in other states, he said.

But no matter what the DEA and the state bar ethics committee say, 
public opinion has seen an incredible shift regarding marijuana, 
medical or otherwise. Voters in four states have decided to legalize 
recreational use of marijuana. And marijuana legalization is on the 
ballot in five additional states - including California, Arizona, 
Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine - in November. It's possible the 
"reeferendum" may fail in some of these states - especially if young 
people don't show up to the polls. But it's pretty certain that the 
vote in each one will be much closer than it would have been just a 
few years ago.

There was one ray of light in the DEA's decision last week. It will 
increase the amount of marijuana available for research. Presently, 
the University of Mississippi is the only place where marijuana 
legally can be produced for scientific research. The DEA said it 
would begin allowing researchers and drug companies to use pot grown 
in other places. This, according to a DEA news release, will "provide 
researchers with a more varied and robust supply of marijuana."

And Rosenberg said in a letter to petitioners last week, "If 
scientific understanding about marijuana changes - and it could 
change - then the decision [to keep cannabis on Schedule 1] could change."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom