By Andy Jackson: CNJ staff writer
For the sixth time in his legislative career, Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, voted in favor of medical marijuana.
The bill to legalize the controlled distribution of marijuana to terminally ill patients with AIDS, cancer and some other illnesses, is something Ingle, along with the governor, other legislators and the Curry County sheriff feel is warranted.
However, opponents say it could be a first step to marijuana legalization.
“I’ve known a lot of people suffering and dying of cancer and have used marijuana to help them get through the pain,” Ingle said.
The bill requires a board of eight doctors approve every prescription before it can be issued to a patient, Ingle said.
Ingle believes there are enough checks and balances for the drug’s distribution to be controlled and not abused.
The federal government finds marijuana to have no medicinal value and has a high potential for abuse, according to the Drug Policy Alliance Web site.
Curry County Sheriff Roger Hatcher said based on his understanding of the bill, he does not think it would create problems for law enforcement.
“From my understanding, this (medical marijuana) won’t be joints, it will be patches or pills. It’s not going to be like people are going to the back yard for treatment,” he said.
However, Hatcher said if restrictions on the bill were lifted, and it was used by people without terminal illnesses, he would be strongly opposed to the legislation.
“I have issues with any kind of recreational use of drugs,” Hatcher said.
The Public Information Officer for the New Mexico Department of Public Safety, Peter Olson, said the bill is not an issue for law enforcement, it would affect prescriptions available to patients, he said.
A national grassroots organization has an online petition which can be sent to Gov. Bill Richardson and the state’s House and Senate to oppose the legislation.
“The backers of this bill are being disingenuous. This is only a stepping stone to making marijuana legal. Our case in point is Nevada, where they have had crude medical marijuana for several years (and) now they are going for full legalization,” said Steven Steiner, founder and executive director of Dad’s and Mad Mom’s Against Drug Dealers in a story on the US Newswire.
New Mexico passed a medical marijuana law in 1978, and 250 patients used the drug to alleviate symptoms associated with chemotherapy and glaucoma until 1986, when lawmakers stopped funding the program, according to the Drug Policy Alliance Web site.
The bill passed in the Senate on Tuesday in a 34-6 vote. The medical marijuana bill will likely hit the house at the end of the legislative session, if it passes through the judiciary committee.
Rep. Keith Gardner, R-Roswell, said he will likely vote in favor of the bill, saying doctors and patients that have spoken to Congress said marijuana alleviates suffering unlike other drugs available to terminally ill patients.
“I watched my grandfather die of pancreatic cancer, it was torturous, at the end of his life he was asking for the pain to go away,” Gardner said. “If I had known that (marijuana) would have made a difference in his suffering, I would have found it for him. How can we deny those who are dying something that will provide them with relief?’”