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Medical Marijuana in New Mexico

Eighteen months after New Mexico enacted a first-of-its-kind medical marijuana law, the state is moving gingerly ahead, mindful that the closely watched program could go up in smoke because it conflicts with federal law.

New Mexico's statute, which took effect in July 2007, differs from 12 other states that have approved medical marijuana legislation in one major way -- state health officials will oversee a production and distribution system.

To borrow the street metaphor, the state needs a dealer.

Of course, that puts New Mexico's health department sideways with federal drug laws that make it illegal for anyone to possess, grow or distribute marijuana. It's also illegal under federal law to solicit someone for those purposes.

The new administration of President Barack Obama isn't likely to change anything -- not immediately anyway.

"This is a matter of the law and the law hasn't changed," said Rafael Lemaitre, spokesman for the National Office for Drug Control Policy. "It's still illegal to grow, possess and distribute marijuana."

He said he couldn't discuss specifics of the New Mexico plan.

Bruce Mirken of Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, said New Mexico is being closely monitored because it is apparent that state officials have put a lot of thought into the program.

"Theoretically, what New Mexico is trying to do makes a great deal of sense," he said. "We'll see how it plays out. But it certainly makes sense for patients to have someplace they can go that is reliable and safe to get their medicine."