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Misguided policy and wasted resources

By Hempology | September 6, 2007

The New Mexican, NM
31 Aug 2007
Steve Terrell


Gov.  Bill Richardson lashed out at the Bush administration on Thursday over this week’s arrest of a wheelchair-bound Eddy County man who was certified by the state Health Department to possess and smoke marijuana for medical reasons.

The Pecos Valley Drug Task Force, a multiagency law enforcement group in Southern New Mexico, raided the Malaga, N.M., home of Leonard French, who is one of 38 patients approved to participate in the state medical-marijuana program.  The program started in July after a new state law went into effect.  Officers seized several marijuana plants.

The federal Drug Enforcement Agency and the FBI are members of the task force, which also includes state, county and local police agencies.  No state charges have been filed against French, though the task force has said federal charges are possible.

The task force also has said its officers did not know French had state permission to use marijuana at the time of the raid. 

“I’m very concerned that the Bush administration, instead of going after drug dealers, are going after people who are suffering from cancer and paraplegics,” Richardson said at a news conference when asked about the arrest.

French, according to The Associated Press, lost the use of his legs following a motorcycle crash about 20 years ago.

The governor, who is running for president, pledged to fight for the medical-marijuana program he helped get through the New Mexico Legislature, saying it’s a matter of state sovereignty.  “We’re preparing legal options,” he said, though he didn’t specify what those options are.

All eight Democratic presidential candidates have pledged to stop federal raids on medical marijuana patients in the 12 states with laws allowing the use of marijuana to treat medical conditions.

Earlier this month Richardson sent Bush an open letter urging the administration to change its “misguided policy and wasted resources spent to intimidate states trying to implement medical marijuana programs.”

Richardson was asked about comments this week by Santa Fe County Commissioner Harry Montoya, who said the state law “sends a mixed message to young people” and pledged to use his elected position to prevent government-sanctioned cultivation or distribution of marijuana in Santa Fe County.

Montoya also referred to $50,000 in contributions to Richardson’s re-election campaign last year from a political action committee associated with the Drug Policy Alliance — a group that for years has fought for the medical-marijuana program — and billionaire George Soros, the DPA’s founder.

Richardson praised Montoya as a “good public servant.” “He represents a portion of the county that is wracked with drug problems,” Richardson said.  “I am not for decriminalizing marijuana or legalizing drugs.”

The medical marijuana law was “tightly drafted” to prevent abuse, Richardson said.

The state Heath Department announced earlier this month that it would not implement the law’s provisions for the agency to oversee the production and distribution of marijuana to eligible patients.  This was due to concerns over the potential for federal prosecution of state employees.

Richardson subsequently ordered the department to resume planning for a medical-marijuana program, and a public hearing on the matter is planned this fall.

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