Legislators say nay on marijuana vote
State Rep.: ‘I think it’s most likely going to pass at some point’
On May 1, the Missouri House made a surprising decision when, in a 112-44 vote, it voted to allow anyone over the age of 18 with a terminal disease to use smokeless medical marijuana.
HB 1554 moved to the Senate with less than three weeks remaining in the legislative session, which local legislators say doesn’t give it adequate time to succeed.
In an article by the Associated Press, lawmakers are portrayed to appear to be rushing to legalize the plant for medical use before grassroots organizations cross the finish line first. Research shows the state could bring in nearly $5 million a year by 2021 through taxing the medical cannabis industry, an estimated $115 million-a-year industry.
State Rep. Jim Neely, R-Cameron, the bill’s sponsor, and a physician, argued that the legislature set the rules for the medical cannabis industry.
“If we don’t take action, voters of this state may very well take the decision out of the hands of the politicians and put it in the hands of the voters,” he said.
Groups collecting signatures for ballot initiatives to legalize, regulate and tax medical marijuana are in fact leaps ahead, such as New Approach Missouri, which announced on May 4 that it submitted 374,483 signatures — more than double what was required.
Other groups, like Missourians for Patient Care and Find the Cure, are also finishing up petition drives and will be hitting the campaign trail.
In addition to terminal diseases, under the bill, patients with Alzheimer’s, cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder and other debilitating medical conditions may be eligible. The Department of Health and Senior Services would be able to expand conditions that qualify, as long as 10 physicians ask for an addition.
State Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, shared his opinion on the House decision.
“I thought the bill was well-drafted,” he said. “Medical marijuana would be used for terminal illness and a few other things, but we still have these problems in that it’s still on the federal Schedule 1 Drug List, which means it’s illegal. And I don’t know that leadership is ready for it, either. I know there are a few senators that won’t let it go through, but it’s a start. The bill specifies that all other options are to be used before medical marijuana.”
Sater said his views on medical marijuana have not changed in that he feels it should be used primarily in end-of-life scenarios for pain management.
“I don’t have a problem with using smokeless medical marijuana for things like intractable epilepsy, terminal illness and pain that is not relieved by other medicines,” he said.
Federal law groups the plant with drugs like heroin and LSD and labels it as having no medical use, while at the same time, the government has its own patent affirming the plant’s medicinal abilities.
“It is a contradiction,” he said.
Sater said the law makes it a challenge to states’ efforts to make the plant available to patients.
Sater does not believe the bill will pass this legislative session.
“There are only two weeks left in session,” he said. “If it would have gotten over to us two weeks ago, then it would have a chance to be assigned and testimony heard and would go to the Senate floor.”
Sater said if it were to reach the floor, he would have strong considerations in favor of the bill from a medical standpoint. However, he does not believe it will make it to the floor, and he said voter initiatives seem to have a better chance.
“There is one initiative that has over 300,000 signatures,” Sater said. “If the voters pass an initiative, then it circumvents the House and Senate. That’s the way the process works.”
Sater commented on what the process would look like, if cannabis is legalized.
“The Department of Health and Senior Services will license growers to grow medical marijuana, and it will have to regulated,” he said. “That would be the first step. And, a person would have to find a physician willing to prescribe it.”
State Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, who said that while his opinion of medical marijuana has softened somewhat, he did cast a nay vote on the bill.
“For me, it was a decision I made based on district input,” he said. “The bill would be only for people with terminal illnesses to use for pain management versus opioids. With the problem of opiates across the country in almost epidemics, I could see the argument for allowing people with those illnesses and end-of-life scenarios to use it for pain.
“I think, ultimately, we will end up with the drug being legal, and it’s most likely going to pass at some point, and that most people do support it. And, if the legislature doesn’t do it, it will most likely be done by the people. But, it’s not going to pass this year.”
One of the concerns is the state requiring patients to try other medications before being allowed to use medical marijuana, such as in the case of children with epilepsy, who may now legally use CBD oil, but only after trying three black box narcotics first — which can cause severe side effects and death. Fitzpatrick said he was open to other options.
“If it were to be legalized and the doctor-patient relationship was such that if the doctor felt it was the best thing for the patient to substitute, then I would feel that would be best as opposed to working through some other cocktail of medication,” he said.
Fitzpatrick also commented on the government’s efforts to keep the plant illegal, even with the majority of states now legalizing it.
“If all 50 states end up legalizing marijuana, the federal government is eventually going to lose,” he said. “They will end up having to change the law, or it will be essentially nullified because the states are going to be ignoring it, and they’re not going to be able to enforce it on their own. And I think that’s safe to say for any law when states disagree. It doesn’t really matter what the subject.”
State Rep. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, said this issue is something he continually wrestles with.
Moon said he heard from a number of constituents not in favor of passing the bill, and he voted against the measure because of how limiting it was when it comes to conditions that would qualify, as well as a lack of regulation as compared to current prescription drugs.
“For synthetic drugs, there are so many procedures, testing and regulations, and years of study that takes place to ensure the safety of a medication, and that was all left out of this bill [when it comes to marijuana],” Moon said. “If we’re going to legalize it for medicine, we need to regulate it and treat it like other prescription drugs.
“The bill also limited use to things like end of life care and chronic illness, and I have a friend with migraines who would not be included. On the one hand, we need regulations, and on the second hand, it shouldn’t be limited to only certain conditions. Doctors can decide when use is appropriate and at what dosage for each condition.”
Looking past the bill itself, Moon said as a property rights advocate, he does not understand why the government places so many regulations on a plant.
“I believe in property rights and that you are free to use your property as you wish if you are not infringing on others’ rights,” he said. “So, if I wanted to grow a plant on my property and use it how I please on my property, why should the government have any say in how I am using it?
“Alcohol is a drug and you can buy it and use it freely unless you are infringing on others. I know there’s a negative social connotation with marijuana, but I wonder what would happen if we allowed people to exercise individual responsibility. I believe we have become more and more of a nanny state, looking to the government to tell us what we can and can’t do, and that takes away personal responsibility.”
Moon also said there are so many side effects with synthetic drugs now, and reports say there has never been a recorded overdose on marijuana.
“It’s a hard decision,” he said. “I grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and some people I knew in high school used marijuana. I don’t know where they are now or what has become of them, but I imagine there’s a big black market for marijuana, and legalizing may put an end to that crime. Hemp is also very close to marijuana in how it looks, and it is highly regulated. In that case, we ares giving way to overrated fears. I am not for recreational use, and if we are going to allow medical use, we should to studies to find more about it instead of this bill limiting use to certain conditions like it did.”
If passed, Missouri would become the 30th state to legalize marijuana for medical use.