Wednesday, August 15, 2007

State of New Mexico will not distribute marijuana, New Mexican medical marijuana patients can grow their own "three month supply"

Today, the State of New Mexico announced that it will not distribute marijuana to those patients who need it. Medical marijuana patients will be allowed to grow and possess there own marijuana.

"The Department of Health will not subject its employees to potential federal prosecution, and therefore will not distribute or produce medical marijuana,'' said Dr. Alfredo Vigil, who heads the agency. The department will continue to certify patients as eligible to possess marijuana, protecting them from state prosecution, Vigil said. Thirty patients have been approved to participate in the program since the law took effect July 1, according to a department spokeswoman. The law was passed by the 2007 Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Bill Richardson, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination. Medical marijuana advocates urged the agency to reconsider its stance on producing marijuana so that patients would be able to get the drug from a source that was legal under state law. "I remember certain legislators talking about how they didn't want their grandmother to have to go into some alley and deal with some criminal element,'' said Reena Szczepanski, a lobbyist for Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico who helped push the legislation through this year. Szczepanski also said the department is "leaving itself vulnerable to a lawsuit'' for not complying with the law. "I hope that the department is not closing the door to production and distribution entirely,'' Szczepanski said. New Mexico — alone among the dozen states with medical marijuana laws — requires that the state license marijuana producers and develop a distribution system. The rules were to be issued by Oct. 1. Attorney General Gary King cautioned last week that the agency and its employees could face federal prosecution for implementing the new law, and that the attorney general can't defend state workers in criminal cases. Marijuana is illegal under federal law, but medical marijuana advocates say no state employee ever has been federally prosecuted for implementing a state medical marijuana law. King should provide "more meaningful legal direction to the department,'' Szczepanski said. Under the current program, certified patients may possess a three-month supply of marijuana, including plants. The department will go ahead with the process of making permanent rules governing that part of the program, said spokeswoman Deborah Busemeyer. "What we're doing now is what every other state is doing that has a medical marijuana law. ... Those states have set a precedent in being able to successfully do that,'' she said. Going beyond that by overseeing a production and distribution system could put state employees at greater risk of federal prosecution, she said.

Chip Venie is a private criminal defense attorney in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is admitted to practice before state and federal courts in New Mexico, California, Washington, D.C., and Michigan. Mr. Venie graduated from The University of Virginia School of Law and clerked as a staff Attorney to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia. Mr. Venie has litigated over 700 trial level felony matters and over 150 appeals. Mr. Venie can be reached at (505) 766-9000 or (619) 235-8300, or

Mr. Venie's website can be found at

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