Panelists Speak On The Legalization Of Medical Marijuana In Missouri

Photo Credit: Jennifer Ra

Washington University’s Young Americans for Liberty hosted the panel “Higher Quality Care: A Medical Marijuana Panel” to discuss the legalization of medical marijuana in the state of Missouri Tuesday.

Young Americans for Liberty hosted three panelists in collaboration with Washington University’s College Democrats and New Approach Missouri, a campaign to legalize medical marijuana in Missouri. The three panelists included: John Payne, campaign manager for New Approach Missouri; Lonnie Kessler, a patient and medical cannabis advocate; Dr. Elan Simckes, a fertility physician and member of New Approach Missouri’s advisory board.

Andrew Eichen, senior and president of Young Americans for Liberty, thought it was important to host the panel to educate students about the benefits of medicinal cannabis.

Each panelist brought a different perspective to the discussion of the legalization of medical marijuana in Missouri. Payne began the discussion with a description of New Approach Missouri’s initiative.

“It is not a full legalization measure, but it is a very broad medical cannabis measure. We’re really trying to put the power in the hands of doctors to make the determination who among their patients needs medical cannabis,” Payne said. “We don’t try to restrict it to just a few qualifying conditions. We say any condition that a doctor believes can be helped by medical cannabis, they [should be able to] make a recommendation for their patients to go out and legally obtain that cannabis. It’s also a very patient-friendly measure.”

Kessler continued the conversation by sharing his own personal story. In 2007, he was diagnosed with a softball-sized brain tumor. Eleven years and two surgeries later, Kessler has been left with a host of health issues including epilepsy, which has stopped responding to his medication.

“I still have to take [my medication] regardless of what they’re doing to my body because medical marijuana is not an option for patients like me in Missouri. So, one of my medications is 2.5 times the legal toxicity limit and there’s nothing I can do,” Kessler said. “Quite frankly, this is my chance. I need this. I can’t afford to move out of state, I can’t afford to up and leave my support system, my doctors. I’ve tried working with the legislators and they aren’t listening.”

Eichen and freshman Arik Wolk found the inclusion of Kessler’s testimony a powerful part of the discussion.

“Seeing him struggle and not being able to acquire the medicine he needs to live his day-to-day life I think really helps show the people how important this issue is and how this is something we need to have now across the country,” Eichen said. “It’s sad that we still have a big 21 states who don’t have medical marijuana. People that live in these states, tens and thousands of people live like Lonnie, and they don’t have access to the medicine they need to live their day-to-day lives, and I don’t think the government should be there stopping them.”

“I thought the personal story from a potential medical marijuana patient was particularly compelling and persuasive and could be used to persuade other people who are residents of Missouri to support this issue,” Wolk said.

Before opening the floor to questions from the audience, Dr. Simckes shared a bit about the history of medical marijuana and why he personally got involved with New Approach Missouri and the movement to legalize medical marijuana in Missouri.

“States that have medical marijuana laws have 25-26 percent decreased risk for incidents of death from opioid overdoses. Someone dies every five minutes from heroin. Everybody probably knows somebody who knows somebody who had a heroin overdose, and that’s what brought me into this,” Simckes said. “I’ve lost three patients that I know to heroin this year. So, that’s what got me involved.”

Junior Nick DesMarais and freshman Clarinda Tan found the different perspectives shared during the panel very informative.

“I thought the statistic [Dr. Simckes] gave about opioid use dropping by 25 percent [in states with legalized medical marijuana] was super relevant,” Desmarais said. “I think everybody can agree it was a good thing; so, it would definitely be shown through evidence [that legalizing medicinal cannabis] would have a positive effect on society.”

“I thought the panel was really interesting, and I liked how they brought in someone who had experience with medical marijuana and noted its benefits on a personal level,” Tan said. “I thought it was also interesting how they had the different perspectives of both the campaign managers and from the medical perspective as well.”

New Approach Missouri is still collecting signatures to certify that their initiative will be on the ballot next November. Tan believes students should know how important the petitioning process is.

“I think [students] should know that when people are out petitioning for certain legislation to go through that their signature counts; their voice matters and having the opportunity to voice your opinion on certain issues is really important,” Tan said.