Department of Health and state law enforcement duke it out over whether patients can grow their own marijuana for medical purposes
Legalizing medical marijuana in New Mexico has been anything but cut and dried.
Ultimately, the question in the state and across the country is: Who has the authority to allow the use of cannabis or condone its associated activities? The Department of Health? The State Legislature? Only the federal government?
As expected, the first two weeks of the implementation of the Compassionate Use Act have stirred up a controversy. Questions of who can grow what and what the feds might have to say about it landed in the Attorney General's office. "It's one of those cases that's done when it's done," says spokesperson Phil Sisneros. "It has priority. It's being worked on as we speak, and it's being worked on constantly."
Though the law took effect on July 2, where marijuana will be grown and distributed in New Mexico has not yet been determined. The law outlines that there will be facilities secured by the state. New Mexico is the first state to handle the question of distribution in this way.
The Department of Health issued a news release days before the law went into effect saying it would allow patients to grow their own marijuana in limited amounts. That's a problem for Jim Burleson, director of the state Sheriff's and Police Association. He says the home production of pot will surely bring extra scrutiny from the federal government. "Now they've just said, 'We don't know what to do. But in the meantime, our pot situation is, patient, grown your own.'"
Dr. Steve Jenison, medical director of the state's cannabis program, says he hasn't issued any permits for use yet, so there aren't any residents covered by the program. The debate is not affecting any patients, he says. As of press time, two completed applications had been submitted to the department. Jenison was quick to note that the marijuana production debate was not gumming up the works for those applications.
The Department of Health is only issuing temporary certifications until October, when phase two of the program goes into effect. The interim permits mean a patient is immune from state prosecution for possessing up to six ounces of marijuana. "What we have in place now is what every other state has done," says Deborah Busemeyer, communications director for the Department of Health. "The next level is to provide access for patients who can't get it on their own."
Promises of security--of the state ensuring the safety and location of the site--during the Legislative Session were part of the bill's passage, says Burleson. "None of that's happening." There's no way to be sure, he says, that patients won't be growing marijuana near schools. That's not to say the law enforcement community has no sympathy for people facing difficult illnesses. "Whether you're for marijuana or against marijuana, I think we all have to be against patients having to risk their personal safety and liberty to try to do something the state was supposed to shoulder."
October's phase two will also bring about the formation of a medical advisory committee that will oversee the approval of patients to the cannabis program. As things stand, Jenison is personally rubber-stamping each application.