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Toke '09

Dude, where's my medical marijuana?

April 21, 2009, 12:00 am

When New Mexico passed a law two years ago allowing the use of medical marijuana, no one—potential patients, doctors, bureaucrats, potheads—had any idea what the program would look like or when the herb would start flowering.

In California, dispensaries like Mr Nice Guy (a real place in San Francisco) distribute legal pot for ailments as common as menstrual cramps. The Sunshine State’s easy access to medical marijuana has captured the imagination of New Mexico pot smokers—medical and otherwise. But for New Mexico Department of Health officials, a booming, commercial pot industry is the last thing they want to see develop.

“The difference between California and New Mexico is that California’s law is one page and New Mexico’s is 12 pages,” DOH Infectious Disease Bureau Medical Director Dr. Steve Jenison, who oversees the Medical Cannabis Program, says.

In California, local jurisdictions such as counties formulate regulations and policies for medical marijuana distribution. In New Mexico, the DOH is solely in control of crafting a program.

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Dave Maass

Medical Cannabis Program Coordinator Melissa Milam wants to do marijuana right—not “right now.”

Now, after two years of planning, the DOH has chosen to limit marijuana growing to patients and nonprofits that are capable of both production and distribution. With almost 300 patients and one nonprofit registered for the program, advocates behind the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act may soon see their decade-long dream come to fruition.

“I always tell them: ‘We wanted to do it right, instead of right now,’” Medical Cannabis Program Coordinator Melissa Milam says.

The model the DOH is exploring is so far untested and it is unclear whether nonprofit producers will be able to produce enough to serve an unpredictable statewide demand. (On April 13, the program’s Medical Advisory Board recommended adding eight more medical conditions to the 13 already approved for medical marijuana treatment. If DOH Secretary Alfredo Vigil approves the recommendations, this will no doubt add to the number of applicants to the program.)

In the meantime, the legal gray lines remain: Patients can legally obtain pot from dealers illegally selling it.

As the program finally becomes a reality, the Great New Mexico Marijuana Experiment reignites a debate about pot use and drug culture that has raged for decades.

“Having that conversation out there in the open, having the issue discussed on FOX, on CNN, is shedding a light on the destruction of the Drug War in the United States,” Julie Roberts, policy coordinator with Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico, which lobbied for the legislation, says. “It really crosses class lines, racial lines, gender lines and is impacting a huge proportion of Americans. I think that having these dialogues will hopefully change public perceptions in the months and years to come.”

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