The House passed a bill Tuesday that would bar insurance companies and employers from having to reimburse costs of workers’ medical marijuana through Worker’s Compensation.
House Majority Floor Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, said in House Judiciary Committee he had a hard time voting for the bill, but did anyway.
On the House floor, Gentry successfully offered an amendment that would make the bill conditional on federal law. He went on to say that he fully supports medical marijuana and what said were its benefits.
“I think that medical cannabis does a great number of people a great deal of good,” Gentry said.
Gentry did not vote on passage of the overall bill on the floor.
In the House Judiciary Committee both Gentry and Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, said they ultimately voted in favor of the bill out of concern that insurance companies are currently being forced to break federal law. Pacheco ended up voting against the bill on the floor.
In all, three Republicans voted against the bill; Sarah Maestas Barnes of Albuquerque and James Smith of Sandia Park voted against the legislation. All Democrats present except for George Dodge, Jr. of Santa Rosa voted in favor of the bill.
Rep. Debbie Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, whose daughter Erin was a namesake for the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act which legalized medical marijuana in New Mexico, said the concern coming from Republicans was unfounded.
“I think it’s fear that is not validated,” Armstrong said.
Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, expanded on the theme of what he saw as unfounded fear.
“It’s the non-cannabis users are paranoid,” Maestas said.
Other Democratic members argued that the federal government has shown they have not made marijuana a priority for prosecution.
Maestas said that the federal budget essentially denied funds to the Drug Enforcement Agency for interfering with state laws that allow medical or recreational marijuana. Another example was a memo that implied the federal government is not concerned with states that allow the sale of marijuana.
The bill’s sponsor Rep. Randal Crowder, R-Clovis, said that budget policies and memos are not law.
Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque, spoke out in favor of the bill. He said the conversation should not be about whether medical marijuana is beneficial or not—which he believes it is. Instead Dines said, the conversation should be about protecting business owners concerned with violating federal law. He also repeated something many Republicans have been saying since the House Judiciary Committee.
“We’ve got ourselves in a tough spot,” Dines said.
The final vote was 33-29. Eight representatives missed the late night vote; five were Democrats and three were Republicans.