ST. LOUIS – Last week, the St. Louis Business Journal conducted an informal online poll asking readers if they would vote to legalize medical marijuana in Missouri. An overwhelming 85 percent of respondents said “yes,” with only 13 percent answering in the negative.
The results caught some attention, especially from people working on the issue, because the Business Journal’s readership, both in print and online, tends to skew older, wealthier and more conservative.
While online polls are not necessarily the best marker for accuracy, this response, and others like it, could be signalling a rising tide of pro-marijuana sentiment in Missouri, at least in the state’s urban areas. KTVI, St. Louis’ Fox affiliate, did a similar poll in April and found that 70 percent of voters were in favor of full legalization for recreational purposes and another 25 percent supported medicinal marijuana. Only five percent of respondents opposed any level of legalization. The same thing happened in a February poll in the Kansas City Star; 94 percent of respondents wanted marijuana in Missouri to be as legal as it is in Colorado and Washington.
Based on these results, the stigma of cannabis as a gateway drug seems to be going up in smoke.
One of the leading voices in the pro-medical marijuana movement in Missouri was not at all surprised by the Business Journal’s results. Lobbyist Mark Habbas, a staunch advocate of medical marijuana, believes that people of all ages and political backgrounds have started seeing the benefits of medical marijuana as education on the topic has increased.
“Every month, people are becoming more and more accepting to the fact that medical marijuana is a much safer alternative to prescription drugs,” he said. “I personally believe the numbers are accurate. They could even be higher. The more people we talk to on what the purpose of our bill is, there hasn’t been one person that said ‘I don’t support that.'”
While medical marijuana and marijuana advocacy in general are typically seen as parts of a Democratic platform, Missouri, with its Republican supermajorities in the House and Senate, appears to be on board with medical marijuana legalization, and some conservatives within the General Assembly are as well. Last session, Habbas worked with Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, on legislation that would introduce limited use of medical marijuana in certain cases.
Habbas says not only is marijuana a viable medical alternative, but it’s actually safer than many of the painkillers used in hospitals.
“It’s safer for the body, it’s less addictive and it’s another option for people who don’t want to take prescription painkillers,” he said. “Medical marijuana is a much safer alternative than Oxycontin.”
With increased support in other states, Missouri’s cannabis advocates are eager to get language into statute. Habbas has a focus to get some form of medical marijuana law on the books next session, and an initiative petition submitted earlier in October by New Approach Missouri has a chance of making it to the ballot, as well.