New Mexico’s medical marijuana program, considered to be the most restrictive such law on the books anywhere when first passed by the legislature in 2007, is now used as a model for other state laws. Fifteen states protect the use of medical marijuana for health care within their borders, and another seven or eight states have some such programs under discussion and planning.
The Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act became law on April 2, 2007, when Gov. Bill Richardson bravely came home from the presidential campaign trail to sign it into law. The bill eventually passed the House 36-31 and by a near unanimous vote in the state Senate.
“So what if it’s risky? It’s the right thing to do,” said Richardson, at the time one of the candidates in the crowded 2008 Democratic presidential campaign field. “What we’re talking about is people in deep pain. It only affects them.”
Richardson had supported the proposal since he first ran for governor in 2002, as did Gov. Gary Johnson, the Republican who preceded him in office. But he pushed especially hard for it in 2007, leaning on some Democrats to change their votes after the bill initially failed in the House of Representatives.
Gov. Richardson stated in a Mar. 16, 2007 press release: “This bill will provide much-needed relief for New Mexicans suffering from debilitating diseases while including the proper safeguards to prevent abuse. I am pleased that the legislature did the right thing, reconsidered this important bill and supported a humane option for New Mexicans who endure some of the most painful diseases imaginable.”
“I don’t see it as being a big issue,” he said. “This is for medicinal purpose, for ... people that are suffering. My God, let’s be reasonable.”
Currently, the medical marijuana program in New Mexico has about 3,200 patients – 40 percent of whom are also qualified to grow their own medicine, 25 licensed commercial producers and 120 caregivers. In addition, 200-plus new patients are approved by the Department of Health each month. More than 100 medical marijuana patients live in the Las Vegas/San Miguel county area.
Rather than setting up a new legal program, the New Mexico law simply exempts those patients who meet the criteria and who have a recommendation from at least one doctor from compliance with the Controlled Substances Act as it relates to marijuana, and removes state-level criminal penalties on the use and possession of marijuana by patients “in a regulated system for alleviating symptoms caused by debilitating medical conditions and their medical treatments.”
Even with this exemption, many city and county law enforcement agencies in the state continue to arrest patients and their caregivers and prosecute otherwise law abiding citizens for possession and cultivation of marijuana.