New Mexico on Verge of Becoming Twelfth State to Legalize Use of Medical Marijuana

Press Release March 14, 2007
Media Contact

Reena Szczepanski at (505) 699-0798 or Tommy McDonald at (505)983-3277

New Mexico is on the verge of becoming the twelfth state to approve doctor-recommended medical marijuana for the sick and dying. The New Mexico House of Representatives on Tuesday night passed the Senate substitute bill for SB 523, the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, by a 36-31 margin. The bill would allow qualified patients suffering from certain illnesses, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS and epilepsy, to use medical cannabis for relief of their symptoms. The Senate last night approved the amended bill, preventing the distribution of medical cannabis within 300 feet of any church, school or day-care center.

The bill now goes to Gov. Bill Richardson’s desk. With Gov. Richardson’s signature, New Mexico will become the twelfth state to endorse the use of medical cannabis and only the fourth state legislature to enact such a measure. Richardson has voiced his strong support for the bill and supported legal, limited access to medical cannabis for seriously ill patients since 2002.

This is the first time a presidential candidate will affirm his support for medical marijuana by vocally supporting and signing legislation. The New Mexico measure also is significant in that it sets up a state-licensed distribution system, and has the full support of the New Mexico Department of Health.

“When Gov. Richardson signs the bill, he will be sending a strong message that states can and should exercise their right to do what is in the best interest of their citizens free from intrusion from the Federal government,” said Reena Szczepanski of the Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico. “Governor Richardson’s unwavering support for the medical marijuana bill is a courageous step in ensuring that the will of the people of New Mexico has been validated and for that we are grateful.”

The hallmark of New Mexico’s medical marijuana bill is its strict controls and safeguards to prevent abuse. It will be one of the most tightly regulated programs in the country. The State Department of Health will develop the program’s rules and regulations and also regulate licensed producers, ensuring that security and safety issues are addressed. After a recommendation from their doctor, patients who suffer from terminal illnesses, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, or patients who suffer from glaucoma, can apply to a state-appointed medical review board for admission into the program.

For cancer patient Erin Armstrong, for whom the bill was named, seeing Richardson sign the bill into law will be a clear victory for the rights of patients to choose treatment options that provide relief and comfort.

“On behalf of New Mexico’s patient population, I would like to thank the legislators for their compassion, moral courage and firm commitment to patients’ rights,” said Armstrong, who suffers from advanced thyroid cancer. “I am thrilled to see that our elected officials are prioritizing the lives of New Mexicans over rhetoric and archaic policies.”

But for patients like Essie DeBonet, who suffers from serious side effects due to HIV/AIDS medications, having legal access to medical cannabis means being able to survive. At 91 pounds, simply eating a meal means everything for DeBonet. The anti-nausea effect DeBonet receives from consuming cannabis allows her to keep food down.

“For me, medical marijuana is truly a matter of life and death,” she said.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

Sign up for updates from DPA.