Governor To Pursue Changes in Drug Policy

Governor To Pursue Changes in Drug Policy
Posted by FoM on January 06, 2001 at 08:05:54 PT
By Gilbert Gallegos, Tribune Reporter
Source: Albuquerque Tribune 
Gov. Gary Johnson said his administration is drafting eight legislative bills that deal with changing the state's drug policies -- including the decriminalization of the possession and use of marijuana.   Johnson appeared upbeat during a news conference this morning about how his drug-policy agenda is shaping up now that he has solid ideas to pitch to legislators when they meet starting Jan. 16.
It's clear Johnson, who is in his last two years in office, has a strategy for pushing for drug law changes. He said he will hold another news conference to release details of the bills and keep the drug issue on the "front burner.   A year ago, Johnson said he wouldn't call for the Legislature to change the state drug laws.   He said a lot has changed since then, and he senses growing political support for revamping drug laws. He cited specifically President Clinton's recent support for decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.   The state Senate, with strong Republican support, last year passed a resolution denouncing efforts to soften the state's drug laws.   But this week the Governor's Drug Policy Advisory Group released its drug policy recommendations that range from the obvious to the controversial.   "I wanted to tell you here today that, without exception, I think this report really just nails it on the head," Johnson, a Republican, said of the group's ideas.   "I think that they have recommended a common-sense approach to drug policy," he said.   Johnson said the bills he will send to the Legislature will tackle issues such as allowing needle-exchange programs at pharmacies and not just clinics; decriminalizing possession and use of small amounts of marijuana; eliminating mandatory prison sentences for certain drug convictions; and allowing some terminally ill patients to use marijuana to relieve side-effects from their treatments.   None of the bills focus on expanding the state's drug treatment programs. Johnson was reluctant to say how much new money should be spent on expanding drug treatment.   The governor said he has talked to both Republican and Democratic legislators about carrying his drug legislative package. But he did not release their names.   Johnson acknowledged some of the ideas in the report are not new. He said he made a mistake in the past when vetoing a bill that would have changed the way the state deals with seizure of drug-dealers' assets.   "I have made mistakes since I've been governor," Johnson said. "If I were given the same bill on asset forfeiture that I vetoed, . . . I would now sign that bill."   One of the pitfalls Johnson foresees when the Legislature takes up his drug-policy plan is the possibility that Democratic leaders will only pass the portions that they like, while more controversial ideas are ignored.   Nevertheless, Johnson said he senses that efforts to reform drug laws are gaining momentum.   "I think the entire nation right now is focused on New Mexico and drug reform, and what we might accomplish," Johnson said. "And right now I sense a crack in the dam. I sense a tipping point here. And I sense everybody wants to back off of this getting-tougher concept."   Not everybody. A leading legislative critic is leery about Johnson's efforts to change drug policies.   Rep. Ron Godbey said he believes Johnson is using so-called "harm-reduction" programs as a means toward more liberal drug laws.   "Decriminalization is a fancy word for legalization," Godbey, an Albuquerque Republican, said. "What it amounts to is looking the other way when it comes to marijuana."   Godbey, who has promised to fight Johnson's drug-policy proposals in the Legislature, said he met with members of the advisory group to no avail.   "I'll oppose most of the things they are talking about," Godbey said.   Retired state District Judge Woody Smith, who chaired the drug-policy group that Johnson hand-picked, said he realizes there will be opposition to reform efforts.   "It's going to take time to get people to even listen," Smith said.   Smith and others in the group urged the public and legislators to consider the entire package of recommendations with an open mind.   "I feel these changes, if they are taken seriously, will make things better in this state," Smith said.   Aside from the legislation Johnson is pursuing, several other recommendations from the group will be dealt with administratively.   Johnson said his chief of staff, Lou Gallegos, will assess all of the drug programs in the state.   And Johnson has instructed the state Department of Finance and Administration to create a "global drug budget" that measures results of drug programs.   The push for new drug-control strategies was born out of Johnson's controversial support, first, to decriminalize drug possession, then later to legalize some drugs.   The reason for decriminalizing marijuana use -- basically removing criminal sanctions for possession of 1 ounce or less of the drug -- is to free up jail and prison space for violent criminals.   However, the group did not directly address the idea of legalizing drugs, which Johnson feels is a national issue for Congress, not states, to deal with. Drug Policies:The Governor's Drug Policy Advisory Group made several recommendations for changes to New Mexico's war on drugs. The group was created by Gov. Gary Johnson to come up with ideas that he can pursue to change New Mexico's drug policies. Here are the main recommendations that Johnson will now consider as policy changes: Prevention and Drug Education:Money. More cash for proven drug education and prevention programs, including programs in schools.Mental health. Encourage several state agencies and local school systems to work together to increase mental health and substance-abuse treatment services for kids. Treatment On Demand:Money. Expand voluntary substance-abuse treatment services.Medicaid. Renegotiate Medicaid contracts so that mental health and substance-abuse treatments also include methadone maintenance and other therapies.Counselors. Change state law to allow people who complete jail time and treatment to serve as substance-abuse counselors.Shifting resources. Move resources between state agencies to make voluntary treatment available to anyone who requests it.Federal dollars. Explore more sources for federal money for treatment. Harm Reduction Policies: Needle exchange. Expand the 20 programs already available to exchange clean syringes for used syringes for drug users; change pharmacy laws to allow pharmacists to sell clean syringes without facing liability; change the Controlled Substances Act so that syringes are no longer considered drug paraphernalia in order to arrest people; and allow people to carry syringes any time, not just on the way back and forth to exchange sites.Methadone. Make methadone therapies more broadly available to help addicts reduce the use of illegal opiates, such as heroin. State health officials would have to seek waivers from the federal government to allow methadone therapies to be offered in physicians' offices or public health offices. Also allow methadone therapies as an option in drug treatment, prisons and Drug Court programs.Overdoses. The Department of Health should continue to make the medication naloxone available to local communities. The medication is used to reverse the effects of opiates and to prevent overdose.Medical marijuana. Change the current Lynn Pierson Act, the existing medicinal marijuana law in New Mexico, so certain patients could use marijuana to help treat the effects of diseases and illnesses, such as glaucoma, and the side effects of treatments for diseases and illnesses, such as cancer chemotherapy. The current law allows medical marijuana only in research settings. Sentencing Reform:Reduce charges. Change state law to reduce first and second drug possession offenses to misdemeanors; require automatic probation and substance-abuse treatment, rather than jail time, for those offenses.Decriminalize. Change state law to remove the criminal penalty for personal possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana; allow for civil penalties, rather than criminal penalties, for use of marijuana in public places.Drug-related offenses. Change state law, such as the habitual offender law and mandatory minimum sentences, so that people convicted of drug-related offenses no longer get automatically increased prison sentences. Sentencing would be determined on a case-by-case basis. Governor's Drug Policy Advisor Group:The group's nine members are:Woody Smith, a retired state District Court judge from Albuquerque;Nick Bakas, secretary of the Department of Public Safety;Alex Valdez, secretary of the Department of Health;Jim Baca, mayor of Albuquerque;John Kane, senior judge with the U.S. District Court in Denver;Angie Vaccio, executive director of Peanut Butter & Jelly Family Services;Cisco McSorley, state Democrat senator from Albuquerque;Steve Bunch, executive director of the New Mexico Drug Policy Forum;Steve Jenison, of the Infectious Disease Bureau of Public Health. Staff Members:Dave Miller, Gov. Gary Johnson's legislative liaison;Katharine Huffman, director of the New Mexico Drug Policy Project, the Lindesmith Center.Note: The Johnson administration is drafting eight legislative bills that would alter the state's drug laws -- including decriminalizing marijuana.Source: Albuquerque Tribune (NM)Author: Gilbert Gallegos, Tribune ReporterPublished: January 6, 2001Copyright: 2001 The Albuquerque TribuneAddress: P.O. Drawer T, 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109Contact: letters abqtrib.comWebsite: Articles & Web Site:Governor Gary Johnson's Home Page - DPF Mexico Drug Policy Foundation Bill Would Legalize Small Amounts of Pot Panel Wants More Treatment, New Laws Mexico Thumbs It's Nose at The War on Drugs Articles - Governor Gary Johnson 
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Comment #1 posted by jaybird on January 13, 2001 at 17:06:53 PT:
Gov. Johnson's a Republican, right?
Couldn't help but notice that the governors party wasn't mentioned in the article. He is a Republican, isn't he?
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