Local legislators remain against medicinal pot
Sater: 'I believe, as a pharmacist, that marijuana is still a gateway drug'
While four more states legalized marijuana for medicinal use in the November General Election, local legislators said they are still against Missouri following a similar path, citing marijuana as a gateway drug and medicinal use as a slippery slope to recreational legalization.
Missouri has already passed legislation relating to hemp, the fibrous part of the Cannabis plant, and with the current national trend moving toward acceptance of the plant for medicinal use, it could be among the next states to approve medical marijuana -- like Missouri neighbor Arkansas did on Nov. 8.
Current state law, SB 822, sponsored by State Sen. Joseph Keaveny, D-St. Louis, allows people with intractable epilepsy and certain serious conditions to possess and use hemp extract to treat their condition. Those conditions are defined as: cancer, HIV, AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord damage, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies, Huntington's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, or certain specified symptoms or complications associated with the above conditions.
State Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, an experienced pharmacist, said he supports the use of hemp oil to treat [specific] medical conditions.
"There's no TCH (tetrahydrocannabinol) in the oil, which contains the hallucinogen," he said. "They're just using the product without TCH. The bill passed last year. It doesn't require a prescription, but a note from the doctor."
The plant is reported by users to help alleviate pain and symptoms of a variety of medical conditions, including neurological issues and seizures in children, having the potential to impact the daily lives and functioning of millions of Americans.
"Advocates say smoking marijuana helps with nausea, pain, cancer and other medical problems," Sater said.
A grass-roots ballot initiative calling for the legalization of medical marijuana in the state, sponsored by Show Me Cannabis, failed to make it on the ballot this year. Even if legalized, there would be much to navigate, such as regulations for how marijuana would be obtained and consumed, along with measures to ensure it is not abused.
"The smoked or consumed forms of marijuana will have to be made script only, and be narrowed down to certain disease states," Sater said.
Although other states seem to be lining up to pass medical marijuana, Sater doesn't feel Missouri is going to be among them any time soon.
"I think it's going to take quite awhile," he said. "I believe, as a pharmacist, that marijuana is still a gateway drug. About 80-90 percent of people who've used cocaine, heroin, etc., started with alcohol or marijuana."
State Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, feels there is merit to certain types of conditions that marijuana allegedly helps treat, specifically in terminal illness situations to relieve pain, but the argument is a slippery slope.
"If you allow it, it's likely that recreational use is soon to come, and I don't think that would be good for the state, so I'm generally opposed to it, unless I can get real comfortable that doctors won't inappropriately prescribe it," he said. "My feeling is that the majority of the people in the district may not be in favor of it."
With marijuana's reported ability to relieve pain, and abuse of prescription pain pills and the associated addiction rates and criminal issues that come with it, Fitzpatrick does not think marijuana will replace prescription pain meeds.
"For one, many people don't want anything to do with smoking marijuana, and, if there's a way where it can be used only for that intended purpose and not likely to be abused, I'd be more likely to consider it," he said. "But, I don't see it as a viable alternative for pain medications for all patients suffering from all things."
According to Delores Halbin, a previous cardiac nurse and advocate for the legalization of medicinal marijuana, the U.S. Government believes the plant is an effective treatment for a variety of medical conditions, because they've have had their own patent on it (U.S. Patent No. 6630507) on it since 1998.
However, the government will not change its federal classification, which is currently labeled as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it is carries no medical benefits, which she says is fraud since there are multiple forms of evidence to the contrary.
Halbin's husband suffered from severe eye pain due to glaucoma, which narcotics would not touch. She said after his first use of marijuana, the pain was relieved. The plant allowed him to function and gave him his life back, she said, but in 2014, their home was raided, they were arrested, and he died in 2015, after he was no longer allowed to use the plant.
States are also becoming more lenient toward the plant in the criminal sphere.
In May 2014, Missouri became the 19th state to decriminalize marijuana in some forms by eliminating potential jail time for individuals found with up to 10 grams of the substance, plus reduced sentences for its sale and cultivation, including the ban on probation or parole for those with third felony convictions. The revised criminal codes go into effect on Jan. 1, 2017. St. Louis and Columbia have decriminalized possession up to 35 grams.
Laws in the state, which have been proposed or are in various stages of legislation but have not yet passed, regarding marijuana include:
* HB 2625, which would allow for the use of medical marijuana to treat serious conditions
* HJR 57, which proposes a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana for persons 21 years of age or older
* SJR 29, which would propose a constitutional amendment, if approved by voters, to allow the Department of Health and Senior Services to grant licenses for the cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of marijuana for medical use
* SCS/SB 584, which would exempt industrial hemp, defined as Cannabis saliva L. containing no greater than 3/10 of 1 percent THC, from the definition of marijuana and the list of controlled substances
* SB 762, which would allow a person to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and provide a licensure process for retail marijuana stores, cultivation facilities, product manufacturers and testing facilities. Retail marijuana would be subject to a sales tax of 12.9 percent.