On May 1, the Missouri Senate voted unanimously to pass HB 2238, which authorizes the creation, distribution, and use of CBD oil extracted from cannabis by patients with “intractable epilepsy.” The vote came after a very personal appeal for support from Senator Eric Schmitt (R-Glendale).
Senator Schmitt’s son suffers from seizures, and he hopes that he may benefit from the bill.
“The hardest part is the fear. The fear that you live with that the next one could be that four-hour one — or worse,” Schmitt said in his speech.
This follows a similarly lopsided vote in the Missouri House of Representatives, where the bill passed 139 to 13. The bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Caleb Jones (R-Columbia) and was co-sponsored by leaders in both parties, including Speaker of the House Tim Jones (R-Eureka), Majority Leader John Diehl (R-Town and Country) and Minority Leader Jacob Hummel (D-Saint Louis).
As of this writing, the bill sits before Governor Jay Nixon, who has until the middle of this month to sign or veto it. Given the overwhelming and bipartisan majorities that supported the bill in both houses, it seems to be a foregone conclusion that the governor will either sign it, or, should he choose to veto it, that the legislature will override the veto. Regardless of exactly how it passes, the bill will go into effect immediately, as it contains an emergency clause.
A number of other states such as Utah and Alabama have passed bills that allow for the use of CBD oil to treat seizure disorders. However, none of the other CBD bills have addressed how patients can legally obtain their medicine.
Missouri’s bill is unique in the country in that it actually creates a domestic system of cultivation and distribution operated by non-profits. It is still far from perfect – even for those patients it is designed to help – but this at least appears to be a workable proposal that can have a profound, even lifesaving effect for these patients.
Moreover, it provides a solid starting point for efforts for broader medical cannabis reforms down the road. Almost every Missouri legislator has now publicly taken the position that there is at least one accepted medical use for cannabis – which is a better position than that of the entire federal government. Furthermore, now that they have admitted the principle that cannabis possesses medical utility, they will be more likely to see the multitude of other medical uses for the plant.
It is also far easier to propose an expansion of an existing program than to create a system from whole cloth. Medical cannabis proponents in the legislature will find it relatively simple to push for amendments allowing more patients with different conditions into the program and raising the less than 0.3 percent THC limit to something that can treat a broader range of ailments.
Limited as this legislation is, in the near future, cannabis will be grown legally in Missouri for medical purposes. The idea that the Missouri legislature – which is dominated by Republican super-majorities in both houses – would take such a step seemed implausible at the beginning of the legislative session and downright outlandish a year ago.
And there are also signs that a majority of legislators would support a much broader medical cannabis program. At the beginning of April, the Senate General Laws Committee held a hearing on a full medical cannabis bill (SB 951). Show-Me Cannabis organized over an hour of testimony from patients, advocates and medical professionals.
The senators were clearly both moved and persuaded by what they heard. The committee ultimately approved the bill by a 6-to-0 vote, including ayes from four Republicans. Unfortunately, despite the committee’s Do-Pass recommendation on the bill, Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard (R-Joplin) did not bring it up for a vote on the floor.
Still, it is now clear that there is substantial support for medical cannabis in the Missouri legislature. A bipartisan group of legislators is even taking it upon themselves to learn more about the issue by planning a trip to Colorado during the legislative recess this summer to tour some of the state’s medical cannabis operations.
Further medical cannabis reforms in Missouri will have to wait until the 2015 legislative session, but we now have a legal foundation on which we can build. Show-Me Cannabis will continue working on the issue over the summer by holding public meetings and running educational media across the state and we will make certain that this is just the beginning of a tidal wave of cannabis law reform in the Show-Me State.
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