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An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

Health

Marijuana leaf

New Mexico’s medical marijuana law: the Attorney General’s advice

—GARY K. KING, NEW MEXICO ATTORNEY GENERAL

This seems like a good time to explain the process used to determine our advice to the New Mexico Department of Health (DOH) regarding implementation of the new state medical marijuana law.

The Health Department asked if their workers would risk federal prosecution for helping to distribute and produce medical marijuana for patients who met program eligibility requirements. DOH also asked if it had the authority to formulate plans to implement the medical marijuana program authorized by the new law.

Our answer to the first question was yes, possession and distribution of marijuana is against federal law. This means that state workers who become involved with the program in this way would be breaking a federal criminal law. It is our responsibility to advise all state agencies on how to stay in compliance with state and federal laws that apply to them.

The next part of our advice to DOH is perhaps where some might have thought that I had some discretion or control, but let me spell this out very clearly now; state law says the Attorney General can be removed from office for even giving advice to anyone, including any DOH employee who has committed a crime. Clearly, it is legally impossible by New Mexico statute for the Attorney General to defend state employees who have run afoul of federal marijuana laws.

Our response to the question of whether the DOH was authorized to make plans to implement the new medical marijuana law was yes. The law was approved by the Legislature. The health department can make all the plans it needs to formulate a system to execute the provisions contained in the law.

Obviously, this is a “Catch 22” of sorts, but the Attorney General’s Office must abide by its legal responsibilities prescribed by the New Mexico constitution.

I know the Governor has petitioned the President of the United States to help resolve this dilemma and I hope there will be a resolution that will allow the people who are suffering to alleviate their pain.

Understanding that the subject of medical use of marijuana is a complicated issue, my responsibility here is to provide sound legal advice. Thank you for allowing me to explain the position of the Attorney General’s Office on this matter.

Game and Fish Department continues to monitor for avian influenza

The Department of Game and Fish and other government agencies continue to monitor wild and domestic poultry and waterfowl in the state for avian influenza, including the H5N1 “bird flu” virus that has spread through birds in Asia, Europe, and Africa.

On September 27, poultry at a commercial farm in Saskatchewan, Canada, tested positive for the H7N3 virus, a strain that is highly pathogenic to poultry, but not humans, and has not been associated with wild migratory birds. In response, the U.S. Department of Agriculture placed a temporary ban on the importation of poultry and commercial shipments of live birds, hatching eggs, and unprocessed avian products from Saskatchewan. No importation ban was issued for hunter-harvested wild birds.

However, U.S. Customs interpreted the September 27 USDA ban to include wild birds, and mistakenly confiscated, destroyed, or ordered hunters to dispose of more than four thousand legally harvested ducks and geese before crossing the border into the United States. When informed of the error on September 28, U.S. Customs began letting hunter-harvested birds across the border again.

To date, the H5N1 virus has not been detected in the U.S. or any country in the western hemisphere. Due to recent increased surveillance in both wild birds and poultry, many states have found various low-pathogen avian influenza strains in wild birds. These strains are no threat to human health.

Avian influenza viruses occur naturally in wild bird populations, but New Mexico has not had any recent outbreaks in domestic poultry. New Mexico does not have live bird markets like those associated with outbreaks in other states.

For more information about avian influenza, visit http://www.nmbirdflu.org.


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