Friday, June 29, 2007
By DIANA DEL MAURO | The New Mexican
June 28, 2007
When lobbyists rallied this year at the Roundhouse to legalize medical marijuana, they distinctly said patients wouldn’t be growing this mind-altering herb. Rather, the state Health Department would create a secure production and distribution system — the first state to do so.
After years of failed attempts, the measure won approval, making New Mexico the 12th state with such a law.
Now, as the law is about to go into effect Sunday, the message has changed. In a surprise move Thursday, the Health Department unveiled a provision that allows patients to grow a limited number of marijuana plants with protection from state prosecution.
That angered the law-enforcement community. Jim Burleson, director of the state sheriffs’ and police association, said having individual growers in the state could be a big problem.
“If a person is growing their own (marijuana), there is no quality control and no quantity control — and it’s absolutely contrary to what was discussed at the (legislative) session,” he said.
Also, it “sets up” patients for a high amount of scrutiny from federal law-enforcement agencies, he added. Using or distributing marijuana is illegal under federal law, and state law cannot protect violators from federal prosecution.
The Health Department says qualified patients and caregivers may cultivate as many as four mature marijuana plants and three immature marijuana seedlings. The rule also gives the Health Department the power to audit the number of plants at a patient’s home, said Dr. Steve Jenison, the program’s medical director.
Jenison said even if a state-licensed production and distribution system is put in place, patients would still have the option to grow marijuana plants at home.
Jenison said the Health Department decided to allow patients to grow pot because a state-run system could be months in the making, if it happens at all. Under the new law, the Health Department is supposed to issue rules about developing the production and distribution system by Oct. 1.
Because of a potential conflict between state and federal law (the federal government still views marijuana as an illicit drug that has no medicinal properties), the Health Department is seeking advice from the Attorney General’s Office for the best way to carry out that aspect of the new law.
“We cannot proceed ... until we have a better understanding of the legal implications,” Jenison said.
Burleson was unaware of this development until the Health Department issued a news release about the Medical Cannabis Program on Thursday. Though the Health Department invited various law-enforcement associations to planning meetings about how to implement the new law, most refused to participate.
Burleson said the association’s lawyer warned against taking part in the planning sessions, “lest we be considered co-conspirators in distributing a controlled substance.”
Jenison said the Health Department won’t give patients information on where to obtain seeds or plants or how to grow marijuana.
But Burleson asks, “Where is the first seed or plant going to come from? That’s going to be the first illegal act.”
Patients who don’t want to grow marijuana must find a way to obtain their medicine on the black market — at least for now. Patients and caregivers on the state’s registry can possess up to 6 ounces of marijuana and be protected from state prosecution, as long as they don’t use it fraudulently.
“This program is about providing much-needed relief for New Mexicans suffering from debilitating diseases,” Dr. Alfredo Vigil, the new health secretary, said in a news release. “We will also monitor the use of medical marijuana and prevent abuse.”
The law is limited to people with conditions such as cancer, HIV-AIDS, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis.
Contact Diana Del Mauro at 986-3066 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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