The Painfully Gradual Progression Of Cannabis Legalization In Missouri
Missouri legislators—the Senate, specifically—can’t seem to get on board with legalizing medical marijuana. In 2014, they did pass legislation allowing CBD oil for the treatment of intractable epilepsy. But the restrictions for the medical use of the non-psychoactive cannabinoid are so stringent, it can hardly be called access to treatment for patients in desperate need. At least they didn’t try to call it a compassionate act.
As of April 2018, and after many years of attempting industrial hemp legislation, the famous bill-killing Missouri Senatefinally agreed to HB 2034 allowing for industrial hemp to once again be farmed in their state. It defined industrial hemp apart from marijuana, making industrial hemp-derived CBD legal, even though it's already been sold in the state for some time. Farmers, however, have immediately voiced concerns about the bill’s limitations.
Because legislators have thrown up so many roadblocks to legalization, voters are taking medical marijuana legalization into their own hands this November election. Three medical marijuana initiatives have made it to the ballot. And while these efforts speak to the will of the electorate, they also raise some concerns.
First, let’s have a look at exactly how it came to this in Missouri.
In 2014, Missouri revamped their criminal code for the first time since 1979. This included reducing the penalty for marijuana possession up to 10 grams to no jail time on a first offense and a fine of $500.
Three local jurisdictions have decriminalized even further, though:
- Columbia—In 2004 a voter initiative passed, increasing the amount of marijuana possession to 35 grams and reducing the fine to $250.
- St. Louis—Via city council ordinance in 2013, St. Louis upped the amount to 35 grams as well and made the fine $100-$500.
- Kansas City—In 2017 a voter initiative allowed for up to 35 grams for possession and reduced the fine to $25.
Legalization of CBD Oil Only
Also in 2014, CBD was legalized for use in treating epilepsy. It seems like 2014 was a good year for cannabis legislation progress in Missouri. The reality is that in order for the HB 2238 to get passed the Senate, a lot of restrictions had to be applied. Here are just a few from the bill:
- The patient had to have “intractable epilepsy,” which is defined in the bill as “epilepsy that as determined by a neurologist does not respond to three or more treatment options overseen by the neurologist”.
- The hemp extract may be no more than .03 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and must be composed of at least five percent cannabidiol (CBD).
- The Department of Health and Senior Services shall “[r]egulate the distribution of hemp extract from a cannabidiol oil care center to a registrant, which shall be in addition to any other state or federal regulations”.
- Only two non-profit cultivation and production facilities are licensed to operate for this purpose in the state. This is the only CBD oil that registrants are allowed to use, and, of course, all this is facilitated through the Department of Health and Senior Services.
These are only a few of the rules. At the bottom of the bill is Section B, which, almost humorously, after all the preceding red tape, calls the bill an “emergency act” that will go into effect straightaway “for the immediate preservation of the public health, welfare, peace, and safety …”
Industrial Hemp Farming Finally Passes—For Some
In June of 2018, HB 2034 was signed into law. The bill was the third in three years sponsored by Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Washington, to legalize the growth of industrial hemp in Missouri. HB 830 in 2015 and HB 170 in 2017 each passed in the house and went to the senate to die.
HB 2034 defines industrial hemp apart from marijuana, removing it as a Schedule I controlled substance and from the legal penalties of possessing, growing, or selling marijuana. As in the 2014 Farm Bill, it specifies that industrial hemp must contain .03 percent or less THC. Additionally, it specifically includes in its definition “commodities and products or ingestible animal or consumer products derived from industrial hemp.”
The new bill allows for a hemp cultivation pilot program to be regulated by the Department of Agriculture. However, there are great concerns for farmers who would potentially grow industrial hemp. The legislation limits the program to just 2,000 acres of the total number of farmable acres for the entire state. Farmers that participate will be granted by the Department of Agriculture a minimum of 10 acres and a maximum of 40 acres.
At a meeting in Jefferson City in July, farmers expressed their concerns for these limitations. They feel that the amount of acreage allotted is too little to make a serious go at farming industrial hemp.
But it was precisely this language involving the limitations that got the bill passed through the Senate. As with their regard for patients and health care, a few fearful lawmakers seem to be determined to put their own anxieties and ignorance before the economic welfare of farmers and the State of Missouri.
But the residual and expired fear of a few might just be on the verge of irrelevance with regard to Missouri cannabis legislation.
An Abundance of Medical Marijuana Ballot Initiatives in November 2018 Election
Although industrial hemp farming has finally passed, legalization of medical marijuana has not budged. And Missourians are planning to potentially do something about that this November at the polls.
Earlier this year, the House passed HB 1554, spearheaded by Rep. Jim Neely, R-Cameron. The bill would allow for patients with terminal illnesses that were verified by doctors, to possess and use smokeless medical marijuana. It also included possible expanded access to people suffering from cancer and degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s.
While the limits were still too narrow for advocates, Neely initially felt optimistic about the bill, until other lawmakers requested a hearing and revisions, and ultimately he pulled the bill.
With the inefficacy of lawmakers, marijuana advocacy groups and voters are reaching for the legislative reigns. Many states, including Nevada, Florida, and California, have used ballot initiatives to enact legalization both medicinally and recreationally.
At the beginning of 2018, 19 petitions were in play in Missouri to legalize marijuana in some form. Four groups submitted enough signatures to get on the ballot and three were approved. Those three group initiatives that with be proposed to voters in November are:
- New Approach Missouri
- The Bradshaw Amendment
- The Missourians for Patient Care Act
Each measure seeks to legalize medical marijuana to some degree, but they are each quite different. While this amount of push from advocacy groups points to the inevitability of marijuana legalization, there is fear that having three different initiatives will be divisive and prevent a majority of votes from being achieved.
Although its particular situation is unique, Missouri is not unique in its experience of problems surrounding cannabis legalization. Most states problems seem to stem from two main things:
- The residual fear and ignorance of certain holdout lawmakers that cannabis is still the evil thing that was branded as such by a racists propaganda film in the 1930s.
- The failure to make decisions with the priority of patients in mind. Industrial hemp-derived cannabinoids and marijuana could potentially change the face of preventative health and medicine. And after the priority of the patient, perhaps farmers and those who might benefit from a healthy industrial hemp market.
It’s disheartening to see legislative decisions being made through the whims and the motivations of a few when they do not possess the education to make such decisions. Patients, farmers, health care professionals, and some legislators are becoming increasingly more educated about the benefits of industrial hemp products and marijuana, and the differences between the two. It is important that we continue to educate ourselves with rigorously researched results, always keeping the benefit of patients in the front of our minds.
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MO HB 2238. Legiscan. Web. Accessed 13 September 2018. https://legiscan.com/MO/text/HB2238/id/1018127
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Kohls, Anna. “Industrial hemp could be re-legalized in Missouri.” Missourian. 10 May 2017. Web. Accessed 13 September 2018. https://www.columbiamissourian.com/news/state_news/industrial-hemp-could-be-re-legalized-in-missouri/article_5759c4ec-3115-11e7-9039-db104a7ace1c.html
Weinberg, Tessa. “Missouri lawmakers let medical marijuana die in last days of session.” The Kansas City Star. 18 May 2018. Web. Accessed 13 September 2018. https://www.kansascity.com/news/politics-government/article211411144.html
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Schmitt, Will. “Have questions about your medical marijuana votes in Missouri? Here are some answers.” Springfield News-Leader. 3 September 2018. Web. Accessed 13 September 2018. https://www.news-leader.com/story/news/politics/elections/2018/09/03/medical-marijuana-missouri-voting-november/1112407002/