|Photo: Susan Montoya Bryan|
|Sarah Palin, right, greets Susana Martinez, her pick for New Mexico governor. Martinez wants to end N.M.'s medical marijuana program and take away safe access for patients.|
"I do not support distributing marijuana for any purposes, which is in violation of federal law," Martinez told The Daily Lobo, the University of New Mexico's student paper, last week.
"There are many other treatments for patients in need that do not break federal law," Martinez said. Yeah, too bad those don't work, eh, Susana?
But the Palin endorsee may not get her way. Undoing the state's three-year-old medicinal cannabis law would not be easy, either through the Legislature or through voter referendum.
Collecting enough votes among state lawmakers to overturn the state's medical marijuana law is a long shot, reports Trip Jennings at the New Mexico Independent.
The New Mexico State Senate approved the bill by an overwhelming 32-3 vote in 2007. And even state Sen. Vernon Asbill (R-Carlsbad), one of only three "no" votes, said that although he'd vote for repeal, it didn't seem likely to happen.
According to Asbill, there has been no dramatic shift in legislators' opinions on medical marijuana, and there probably won't be, "unless there is some large-scale abuse -- and that hasn't been reported," Asbill said.
The bill passed the New Mexico House of Representatives on a much closer vote, 36-31, but even if the majority shifted to favoring repeal of medical marijuana, that wouldn't matter. Repealing a law requires approval from both the House and the Senate.
Voter referendum is an even more difficult path for overturning a state law. The last time New Mexico voters successfully repealed a state law in a referendum was in the 1930s, according to the Legislative Council Service. Referendums to repeal laws in the 1950s and 1960s failed.
|Photo: Texas for Sarah Palin|
|Susana Martinez: "I do not support distributing marijuana for any purposes"|
The most likely scenario, should Martinez be elected governor, is her appointment of a secretary of health hostile to the state's medical marijuana program. Since governors control executive branch agencies, Martinez could direct the health department to make regulations so strict that they effectively stop the medical marijuana program's day-to-day operations.
Martinez would not answer questions about whether she might choose such an option if elected governor.
But even this approach -- gutting the medical marijuana program to the point where producers could no longer grow plants, and patients could no longer buy from state-licensed dispensaries -- could be challenging, according to one activist.
"It would really be an abuse of an agency's authority to thwart the law by regulating medical marijuana away," said Tamar Todd with the Drug Policy Alliance. "That might be subject to a legal challenge."
New Mexico's law is considered among the most strict of the 14 states with medical marijuana programs. Dispensaries are state-licensed, but only a few of them, and only after they clear several hurdles.
Only 11 nonprofits have been licensed so far to produce and distribute cannabis to 2,250 patients, according to Deborah Busemeyer, New Mexico Department of Health spokesperson.
About 1,022 of those patients are licensed to grow marijuana themselves, but only for personal use. "They cannot distribute and sell it," Busemeyer said.
Patients become authorized only after they present doctor-certified documents proving they suffer from one of a few qualifying illnesses.
The state recently announced some proposals aimed at making the medical marijuana program more financially self-sufficient. These include upping the cultivation license fee from $100 to $1,000, and imposing a 7 percent tax on annual gross receipts of the nonprofits that cultivate marijuana in the state.