“I had to have a third of my colon removed, which was the ascending part of my colon,” 1st Judicial District Attorney Angela “Spence” Pacheco says. “Now I have two-thirds left, which means, basically, I have a semicolon.”
Pacheco’s battle began eight years ago this April when she was diagnosed with colon cancer. There was surgery to remove the cancer, six months of chemotherapy to finish it off and synthetic THC to help her keep her food down.
“They were like little green BBs and I had like 10 of them,” Pacheco says. “I was amazed when it was prescribed to me.”
She bought the dronabinol from Walgreens, went home and took it as prescribed. The experience was miserable.
“I started hallucinating,” she says. “I became very frightened. I remember I felt like the wall was coming in on me and I couldn’t breathe.”
But it worked.
“It clearly helped my nausea,” she says. “I had never been frightened like that before, but I had release.”
Asked whether she would have smoked pot had it been legally available, Pacheco considers her answer carefully.
“No,” she says. “I’ve prosecuted too many marijuana cases. It’s still basically illegal and especially now, in my position, it would be almost hypocritical.”
Pacheco points out that having a marijuana card comes with its limitations: no driving high, no smoking on the bus, at work, school or any other public place. If you’re caught with pot and tell a cop you’re a medical marijuana patient when you’re not, you’ve committed a petty misdemeanor.
Marijuana possession is a relatively low-level offense in New Mexico; the first offense carries a maximum $100 fine and up to 15 days in jail. However, a judge can order a suspect to complete probation in exchange for full dismissal of the charge.
A scary piece of trivia from the DA: If you’re smoking a joint, that’s a petty misdemeanor. If you pass it to a friend, that’s felony distribution.
But low-level marijuana cases aren’t high on Pacheco’s agenda.
“What we look to prosecute are cases where it’s intended to be criminal, for-profit, where there are addiction issues that lead to [property and violent] crimes,” Pacheco says. “That’s very different from someone with a debilitating illness.”
Sheriff Greg Solano says his office “encourages” deputies not to arrest on minor possession charges and instead issue warnings or citations summoning the individual to court. Santa Fe Police Department Deputy Chief Aric Wheeler says the department follows a similar policy for low-level cases unless there are “exigent circumstances.”
According to Milam, the DOH does not provide local law enforcement with information regarding the location of licensed grow houses and dispensaries. In the event one is busted, law enforcement agencies can call the Health Department to receive confirmation the grower is part of the program.
Solano says he is one of the state’s few sheriffs to support the program.
“We do not arrest, cite or prosecute medical marijuana cases, and we even may assist those who are confused with the law on how to be compliant,” Solano says.
Wheeler says SFPD hasn’t dealt with any medical marijuana-related incidents at this point and doesn’t have a policy in place aside from what is laid out in the state statute.
During the 2009 legislative session, the New Mexico Senate passed a memorial sponsored by Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Bernalillo, “discouraging” the use of state funds to go after authorized marijuana users. The memorial also “urged” the state’s congressional delegation to remove marijuana from Schedule 1, the top tier of federal narcotics regulation, and to support legislation recognizing New Mexico’s medical marijuana law.
Although the Department of Justice under the Bush administration regularly raided medical marijuana operations in California, President Barack Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, said in a February press release he does not intend to raid facilities formed legally under state law.