JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Silver Hair Legislature (SHL), an elected body of Missourians that advocate for seniors, set their Top Five Priorities for 2018. They consist of a bicameral legislature that passes priorities for the upcoming year. This year’s priorities included securing stable funding for seniors through an insurance tax, maintaining the renter’s portion of the Circuit Breaker tax credit, and for the use of medical marijuana in Missouri.
“Quite honestly, I was a little surprised about it,” the current President of the statewide Silver Haired Legislature Barb Ittner said. “A number of people feel that it will help their pain and give health benefits for various conditions.”
The SHL’s proposal comes at an interesting time for Missouri as many citizens have advocated for medical marijuana. Several veterans groups have organized in support of medical marijuana, a number of high-profile initiative petitions have been circulating, and certain legislators have been open to the idea. Rep. Jim Neeley sponsored legislation that would allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to treat certain conditions in 2017.
SHL Senate President Pro Tem Walt Bittle was one of the advocates for the proposal. He thought it was important for the SHL to adopt the motion because he found the abolition of marijuana was not necessary because of its health benefits.
“It’s one of the most effective pieces of medicine in the world and one of the least dangerous,” Bittle said. “It’s infinitely safer than alcohol under any circumstances. It’s almost impossible to get addicted. To not provide one of the best medicines in the world is cruel and unusual punishment!”
For the SHL, the vote to approve medical marijuana as a top priority was significant, but not unanimous. According to Ittner, the Senate approved the motion 23-3 and the House approved the issue 66-16. To compare, some of the more important issues, like securing funding for senior services through the insurance tax, were unanimously approved. Similarly, the votes to reinstate the MoRx co-payment options for prescription drugs were almost nearly unanimous.
“It came down to a majority vote of 114 delegates and frankly, I was surprised that they accepted it overwhelmingly,” Bittle reported. “There was opposition here and there, but nothing of any great consequence.”
He said that the biggest concerns in against the motion from people who did not want Missouri to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Ittner said out that some people could have been confused about the merits and risks attached to the motion they were passing.
“I also was hearing from the general membership that they think that it will be a revenue source for the state. Personally, I think they were getting that confused with non-medical marijuana,” Ittner said. “We pointed out in the Senate that the medical marijuana would be prescription based only”
Bittle contended that should Missouri legalize marijuana for medical use only, there could be some fiscal advantage, but that it wasn’t the main reason behind advocating for it’s use. For him, the economic benefit would be that it would support small businesses that would help the local economy.
“Well, to some extent, but I’m not sure it was a biggie,” he said. “It wouldn’t be controlled by Big Pharma, for one thing. If there was a revenue source, it would be local. It wouldn’t go to the big multinational pharmaceutical groups.”
Both Ittner and Bittle were proud of their top proposals for 2018, that would advocate for seniors – including the provision advocating for medical marijuana. Bittle specifically was asked about how he felt about the SHL’s proposals.
Jokingly, he retorted.
“Pretty good, if I can remember them.”
Michael Layer is a reporter for the Missouri Times and the Missouri Times Magazine. He joined the Missouri Times in August 2017 after graduating from Goucher College the previous May. To contact Michael, email email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @_MichaelLayer