Here’s Why Lawmakers Should Legalize Medical Marijuana In Missouri

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State Rep. Jim Neely’s bill that would legalize medical marijuana in a smokeless form for Missourians with terminal illnesses has been criticized as too restrictive and narrow.

But the measure could jump-start the push to make Missouri the 30th state to allow medical marijuana.

More than 20 lawmakers, including three Democrats, have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill. It passed out of committee this week and awaits consideration in the full House.

The legislation would permit the use of hemp extract for terminally ill patients. The state’s current “Right to Try” law allows patients with terminal illnesses to try experimental drugs without approval from the Food and Drug Administration. It doesn’t include marijuana.

Attitudes toward medical marijuana have shifted nationwide. Not only have 29 states legalized it, nine states and Washington, D.C., also have legalized marijuana for recreational use.

“Marijuana’s everywhere anyway,” Neely, a Republican from Cameron, said. “We’ve got to find a better way of dealing with it.”

Neely sponsored a similar bill last year that was approved by a committee before being killed in the House.

The latest proposal doesn’t offer an extensive list of treatable diseases. Still, it’s a better alternative than three petition initiatives aimed at placing the issue before voters in November.

Two of the three would amend Missouri’s Constitution if passed. The third is simply a statutory amendment.

If both petitions proposing constitutional amendments gain approval, only the one with the most votes would become law. All involved would likely end up in court.

Another obstacle to consider: A constitutional amendment would restrict lawmakers’ ability to expand or revise the measure. Legislation to legalize, tax and regulate medical marijuana is the best option.

Missouri lawmakers don’t need to re-invent the wheel. Arkansas voted in 2016 to legalize medical marijuana for 17 conditions, created a medical work commission and allocated tax revenue to technical institutes, vocational schools, work force training and the state’s general fund.

Marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities, which voters can ban in their municipalities, are regulated. Legislators can amend sections of the measure as well.

Missouri lawmakers also could consider aspects of Illinois’ program, which is still in its pilot phase. Patients can receive cannabis-related treatment if they’ve been diagnosed with at least one of 41 conditions.

Dispensaries have collected about $123.6 million in retail sales the last three years. What cash-strapped state wouldn’t want to deposit taxes from those sales into their coffers?

Medical marijuana remains a divisive topic in Missouri. Supporters say access to medical marijuana reduces opioid use and death from opioid use.

Critics fear it will bring Missouri closer to legalizing weed for recreational purposes. But the state is still a long way from seriously considering that possibility.

For now, lawmakers should take one small step to provide relief to those with terminal illnesses.

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