Thursday, November 13, 2008

NM not alone in lacking marijuana dispensaries

NM not alone in lacking marijuana dispensaries

By: Hunter Riley
Posted: 11/13/08

Since medicinal marijuana was legalized in New Mexico in 2007, there are about 200 medical cannabis users in the state, according to Reena Szczepanski, director of Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico.

However, patients have no place to legally purchase the drug, except in California, Szczepanski said.

"We're in the situation that 12 other states are in," she said. "California has these medical marijuana dispensaries, but they are the only state that is addressing the supply issue. Every other state is basically, 'You are kind of on your own.' So patients either have to grow their own or get it from some type of black-market source."

Student William Bowes uses medical marijuana to help relieve painful pressure in his eyes caused by glaucoma. He said he has found a way to deal with the lack of dispensaries in New Mexico but that it has been difficult.

"There is no legal way to get it. I'm lucky, and I have found a method to obtain exactly what I need and to get the proper strains and the various types of medication that I need," he said.

Garrison Courtney, spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration, said the federal government doesn't focus on people with prescriptions for medical marijuana so much as those who provide it to them.

"When you look at the amount that the states are legalizing, the DEA doesn't necessarily go out and arrest the individual pot smoker - that is a huge waste of our resources. We go after drug traffickers and drug organizations," he said.

Szczepanski said it has been difficult to make medical marijuana legal and accessible and that there have been problems with government policing.

"It's been implemented in a very controlled way so far," she said. "There was one incident with law enforcement seizing someone's marijuana, but the ACLU sued successfully on behalf of that person."

Courtney said there is no such thing as medical marijuana and that dispensaries are therefore unnecessary.

"There aren't any legitimate medical studies that are currently in existence that show there is a medical benefit to marijuana," he said.

Bowes is prescribed medical marijuana for glaucoma - one of six conditions for which a doctor can prescribe the drug in New Mexico. The others are cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS and spinal cord damage with intractable spasticity, according to the state Department of Health's Medical Marijuana Web site.

Bowes said the marijuana treats more than just his symptoms.

"I went to the eye doctor yesterday and got tested - my pressure in my left eye was 24 prior to using cannabis. Yesterday it was 17. The pressure in my right eye was 21; now it's 12," Bowes said. "And it's slowing nerve atrophy and other things wrong with my eyes."

Bowes said the medical marijuana has also provided relief from severe pain, which no other medication could do.

"I went from having a constant, severe migraine headache to having no headache at all," he said. "So there has been an absolute benefit."

Courtney said there is a prescription drug called Marinol, which contains synthetic THC that could be used instead of marijuana. Marinol has been found to reduce nausea and vomiting in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, and it has shown to increase appetite in AIDS patients.

"This drug has been on the market for at least 10 years," Courtney said. "If this drug is out there, then why do people need to smoke marijuana? You don't."

Sixty 10 mg capsules of Marinol cost more than $1,400 on most online drugstores.

Szczepanski said the Department of Health is discussing a proposal that would license patients and nonprofit organizations to produce and distribute medical marijuana.

She said the DPA is in support of the regulation but wants to add a third circumstance to the law.

"If a patient lives in an apartment building that does not permit medical marijuana to be grown, and there is no nonprofit in their town to serve them, they should be allowed to have their care-giver grow the medical marijuana for them," Szczepanski said.

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