JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Marking a small but notable shift in the politics of cannabis, a House committee heard legislation today from a Republican lawmaker that would regulate and legalize marijuana for medical purposes in the state of Missouri.
HB800 is sponsored by Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair. Hinson’s bill would create the “Missouri Compassionate Care Act” and codify the production, prescription and sale of medical marijuana to qualified patients. Hinson’s bill marks the first time such legislation has been offered by a Republican and subsequently granted a committee hearing.
Hinson does not personally favor full decriminalization of marijuana in Missouri, but says he does favor a reduction in sentences for low-level pot possession, as the city of Columbia has enacted. Hinson said ultimately his interest in the issue was peaked during a decriminalization debate last year in which many members voiced support for legal medical marijuana. Last year Missouri lawmakers legalized the use of a cannabis extract — CBD oil — to treat certain types of epilepsy. The bill flew through the chamber in barely one month and had broad support before earning a signature from Gov. Jay Nixon. Hinson told The Missouri Times last week that the CBD bill’s success also inspired him to offer his legislation.
“None of us wants the Colorado experience,” Hinson said. “This is a very regulated bill. And hopefully it allows us to help ease whatever pain or discomfort someone might have when they are suffering an illness.”
The packed committee hearing drew testimony of support from a broad coalition including the American Nurses Association, the epilepsy foundation, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Show-Me Cannabis, and a handful of patients suffering various medical conditions that would benefit from legal medical marijuana. Montel Williams, the long time radio and television host, is filming a documentary about Missouri’s legislative marijuana fight. Williams, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, is a user and staunch supporter of medical marijuana.
“I see a lot of Missourians here today,” Williams said. “They are here to decide if Missouri should do something compassionate, should they make a medicine available that the world unequivocally agrees works.”
Tom Mundell, a past commander of the Missouri Veterans of Foreign Wars, gave a lengthy and emotional testimony about the experience of himself and his fellow combat veterans and the range of uses for medical cannabis. Mundell has spent time in both Colorado and Washington, touring Veterans Affairs Hospitals to see the impact of medical marijuana on patients. Mundell told the committee that he had seen patients eliminate nearly all of their medications when adding marijuana to their therapy.
Mundell, battling tears, told members about his own experience with PTSD. Mundell said he was found by his wife in the middle of the night wandering in the front yard in “some kind of head trip.” Mundell, admitting he has his own struggles with PTSD, said his wife put a joint in his mouth.
“She said, ‘you’re dying Tom, you’re dying, you need to do something different,’” Mundell said. “So I tried it. And it helped. It did.”
Mundell said he did plenty of his own research, and based on conversations with both fellow veterans and VA doctors, he’s “convinced” that medical marijuana is an appropriate public policy.
“Mankind has made millions of pills,” Mundell said. “And every single one of those pills can kill you if you take too many. But that’s just not the case when it comes to marijuana.”
Only two witnesses testified against the legislation, the most notable was Jason Grellner, a spokesperson for the Missouri Narcotics Officers Association. Grellner spoke at length against the bill and pulled more punches, saying that medical marijuana was simply a system that would be frequently abused by casual users.
“We don’t use politics to bypass science,” Grellner said. “Name for me one drug that we went around the FDA to ensure safety and standardization.”
Grellner says lawmakers should support more research for pharmaceuticals that can provide relief mimicking marijuana that doesn’t present the problems of “standardization.” Grellner said medical marijuana was “not really about medicine.”
“Do we put a sales tax on any other medicine? How do you pay federal income tax if you own a dispensary?” Grellner asked. “If this is truly about medicine, then why restrict it from being near a school? Are there laws saying you can’t build a CVS next to a school? Why not?”
23 other states have currently implemented some kind of medical marijuana system. Hinson’s bill will need approval from Haahr’s committee before it ascends to the general laws committee. The bill must clear general laws before it arrives on the House floor for open debate, a decision left up to the majority floor leader. Hinson has expressed tentative optimism that the bill will receive floor time.
Collin Reischman was the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.