By Kjersti McDonald
Missourians have watched as 30 fellow states and DC have legalized medical marijuana over the past 22 years. Yes, 22 years ago, in 1996, California was the first state to pass legalized medical marijuana. Two years later, three more states followed suit. Since then, almost every election year has brought another state into the medical marijuana fold.
This brief history of legalizing medical marijuana in the States really puts into perspective how behind our state is, and with a vote this November, Missourians finally have the opportunity to change that. New Approach Missouri was one of a few campaigns that worked over the past year to gather enough signatures to put Proposition 2, its medical marijuana initiative, on the ballot.
Touted as the most inclusive of the medical marijuana initiatives, New Approach doubled its signature goal, turning in 370,000 signatures in May of this year, securing its spot on the November 6 ballot.
So what will this new law do, if passed?
Well, doctors would be able to prescribe medical-grade marijuana to patients. While the text lays out guidelines for what a qualifying condition would be, it ultimately defers to the physician’s discretion, stating, “in the professional judgement of a physician.”
The official list of qualifying conditions includes: cancer; epilepsy; glaucoma; migraines; chronic diseases that cause muscle spasms (including, not limited to: Multiple Sclerosis, seizures, Parkinson’s, and Tourette’s); debilitating psychiatric disorders (including, not limited to: PTSD); human immunodeficiency virus/immune deficiency syndrome; and any terminal illness.
However, I think this particular qualifier is super important: “any condition that is normally treated by a prescription that can potentially lead to dependency.” When I read this, I automatically thought of all the opioids that are prescribed for pain management, and what medical marijuana could do for the opioid crisis in our state.
A CNN article from April of this year summarized two studies from the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, stating that states with legalized medical marijuana have seen literally millions fewer daily overdoses from prescribed opioids, and a significant drop in opioid prescriptions all around. That’s a big deal. That alone is a compelling case for legalizing medical marijuana.
The New Approach initiative also outlines a seed-to-sale tracking system that will aim to keep product out of the illegal market. Limits on how much patients would be allowed to purchase must be no less than four ounces at a time, and qualifying patients will be allowed to home-grow up to six plants at a time.
If passed, the new law would take effect December 6, 2018. The Department of Health and Senior Services will have 180 days to make available license applications for any entity that will cultivate, sell, test, or manufacture medical marijuana, and within the same time frame, make available applications to become a qualifying patient or prescriber.
There will be 4% tax on product, the profits of which will go to the Missouri Veterans’ Health and Care Fund.
It’s long past time to admit that medical marijuana has been shown, at the very least, to provide relief to patients suffering from conditions where other medications have failed them. Legalizing medical marijuana would be a huge step forward in helping our fellow Missourians live their best lives, and would allow for further studies to explore both the benefits and risks of this plant.