More MS news articles for November 2000

Health Department May Back Medical Marijuana Law

Saturday, November 25, 2000
By Jackie Jadrnak
Journal Staff Writer

Lawmakers are expected to take a look next year at a law that would allow use of marijuana by people with certain medical conditions who can be helped only through smoking a joint.

Health Secretary Alex Valdez said Monday he thinks such an approach is needed for people who can't get relief any other way.

"I think (legislators) will give careful consideration to it," said Steve Jenison, physician-administrator of the infectious diseases bureau for the state Department of Health.

"New Mexico already has a law on the books," Valdez said. "It shouldn't be viewed as a new or radical issue."

Since 1978, New Mexico has had a law to allow for the medical use of marijuana but only within a formal research study. The state Department of Health used to oversee the marijuana research that had been conducted at the University of New Mexico a number of years ago under that law.

But when advocates of marijuana use tried to restore the program this year, the Department of Health was unable to find researchers willing to take it on, Jenison said.

Both UNM's Health Sciences Center and an HIV clinic declined to revive a marijuana research program, he said. The HIV clinic was approached because people undergoing treatment for HIV or AIDS often find marijuana helps ease nausea and revive their appetites, he said.

With no research avenues left, advocates are pursuing legislation that would open up medical marijuana use in New Mexico without an associated research program. Jenison said the Department of Health would need to take a look at whatever is introduced in the Legislature but would tend to support a bill with a couple of key provisions:

Hawaii's legislature passed a medical marijuana bill this year that included such provisions, Jenison said. Under that law, people are registered with the Department of Public Safety after a physician certifies that they fit the definition of someone who can benefit from the use of marijuana for their medical condition. They no longer could be prosecuted, then, if they are caught possessing or growing small amounts of marijuana for personal use.

They also can name one caregiver to acquire or grow the marijuana for them, according to Jenison. A dealer selling marijuana to such a person, though, still would be violating drug laws, he added.

California, Alaska, Arizona, Maine, Oregon and Washington also have adopted similar laws, and voter initiatives just passed this month in Colorado and Nevada to allow medical use of marijuana.

Advocates for such a law in New Mexico are looking at Hawaii's bill as a model, according to Katharine Huffman, director of the New Mexico Drug Policy Project. That office is part of the Lindesmith Center Drug Policy Foundation.

"There are quite a few potential patients interested in this," she said. She said the Governor's Drug Policy Advisory Group has considered the issue but has not made any recommendations on it yet.