HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Legislature Should Pass Marijuana Bills
Pubdate: Tue, 05 Feb 2002
Source: Albuquerque Tribune (NM)
Copyright: 2002 The Albuquerque Tribune


New Mexico political leaders have a rare opportunity in the final two
weeks of this legislative session to make a progressive change in the
state's drug laws and in many of its citizens' lives.

They should make the best of this chance to adopt state drug policy
reforms that promise to be more humane, practical, efficient and effective.

That is not too much to expect. The people of this state are entitled
to intelligent drug laws. The Democrat-dominated Legislature should
pass all six pending reform bills that Republican Gov. Gary Johnson
has promised to sign. This is not a partisan battle. Neither should it
be a clash between Santa Fe and Washington, D.C.

In spite of efforts to characterize the reforms as dangerous and at
odds with the national "war on drugs," the reforms are reasonable and
overdue. They moderate harsh drug policies which the evidence shows
have been ineffective, unnecessarily punitive, discriminatory and
costly to the state, the nation and people.

While the local perception is that New Mexico is radically leading the
way in national drug reform - perhaps because of the governor's
efforts to jump-start a broad national debate on this issue - the
reality is that lawmakers are considering only careful reforms already
endorsed by several states.

Taking these first steps could provide a benchmark for deeper reforms
advocated by Johnson and others that could be examined more closely
and debated at length.

It is time for simple drug law reform in New Mexico - with or without
Washington's cooperation or acknowledgement that part of the drug
problem is the drug war.

Consider, for example, the inconsistency of our expensive effort to
combat marijuana use, which is illegal but claims few, if any, lives,
while legal tobacco, by the government's own data, kills more than
400,000 Americans every year. It's OK, it seems, for farmers to raise
and profit from deadly, addictive tobacco, while ailing New Mexicans,
we are told, must be denied prescribed marijuana that could relieve
their pain or nausea.

Among the six bills being considered in the Roundhouse, the one
drawing the most fire is the proposal to legalize the medical use of
marijuana, specifically for patients suffering the debilitating
effects of cancer or AIDS.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administrator Asa Hutchinson intimidated
legislators with his letter last week opposing the bill as being at
odds with and undermining federal law. But an analysis by the New
Mexico Attorney General's Office suggests state regulation of medical
marijuana use within its own borders could put the state in a good
position to defend against a federal challenge.

There is increasing, independent scientific evidence that marijuana
has useful medicinal properties, but Congress and the federal courts
prefer to remain blind to this. State lawmakers should take the
attorney general's lead, modify the bill and finally make marijuana
legally available to New Mexicans in need of it medically. It's the
humane and right thing to do. Neither patients nor their doctors nor
state medical officials should have to fear prosecution for making
what is as much a health care decision as is providing morphine to a
wounded soldier.

Drug case overload in the judicial and corrections systems is one of
the strongest arguments for adopting other measures. Initial reports
from other states, where similar drug reforms have been in place for
several years, suggest they will save New Mexicans money and grief and
provide more sensible and effective corrective avenues. At the very
top is providing treatment, instead of mandatory jail time, for non-
violent drug-possession offenses.

The other four bills would:

Allow judicial discretion in sentencing, instead of mandatory prison

Encourage civil penalties for basic marijuana possession.

Provide protection from civil-asset forfeiture for innocent property

Allow offenders who have completed their drug sentences to apply for
federal benefits that could provide economic stability and reduce the
chances for repeat offenses.

Finally, these six reforms should be adopted, because they start a
shift in the drug-policy paradigm in New Mexico. They focus the war on
drugs on the drugs themselves, instead of making war on people.

New Mexico has tried the tough approach for decades, and it seems only
to have widened the conflict. It's time to try the higher road of
compassionate drug laws. 
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