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MMJ in Missouri: Fundraising Hits Big Hurdle

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MMJ in Missouri: Fundraising Hits Big Hurdle

Although 70 percent of Missouri voters support legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, the state legislature is more conservative than its population.

While the legislature has chosen to decriminalize marijuana starting next year, previous medical marijuana bills in the legislature have gone nowhere.

That’s why supporters in Missouri were cheered this week upon learning the news that an initiative to amend the state’s constitution has been officially approved for circulation. Missouri will likely vote on amending the state’s constitution to legalize medical cannabis in the fall – if it can gather the required signatures.

Jack Cardetti, campaign consultant for the initiative’s primary sponsor New Approach Missouri, told Cannabis Now that because he’s confident Missouri voters support medical legalization by wide enough margins, the biggest remaining hurdle to passage is fundraising to gather signatures. He said the group, which must officially report last year’s numbers by January 15, will report next week “well over $300,000” toward its stated current goal of raising $800,000 to hire a professional signature gathering firm. Significantly, he said, that list is almost “exclusively from Missouri donors.”

Drawing upon successes and problematic experiences had by the 23 other American states that have previously passed medical cannabis laws, Cardetti noticed one primary benefit of a well-crafted ballot measure is that it need not be weakened by legislative sausage-making.

In some cases, “the legislative process had to make so many compromises and watered-down (concessions) that the legislation became ineffective,” Cardetti observed, pointing to neighboring Illinois as one cautionary tale. Missouri’s eastern neighbor passed its medical marijuana law via its legislature, and that bill passed with so many restrictions that few qualified Illinois patients yet have legal access to medicine.

Last week, Cardetti told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he did not believe medical marijuana reform could currently get through the state’s conservative legislature.

New Approach Missouri has until 5 pm on May 8, six months before the November election, to submit 160,000 valid signatures, which they believe means 250,000 signatures are needed in order to be safe.

Cardetti said that between the period of February 1 and the May 8 deadline he expects the big public portion of the campaign to start, with public and media events galore.

One goal of the measure, he underscored, is to “put the power in the hands of the doctors.” As to what conditions qualify for treatment, the measure gives leeway to the doctors, including allowing certifications in “the professional judgment of a physician, any other chronic, debilitating or otherwise equivalent condition.”

“These are calls that are made by doctors and not politicians,” Cardetti emphasized, though he chucklingly discouraged the likelihood of successful certification, for example, for Blues fans claiming annual chronic pain from depression every May.

It also won’t be open season for recommendation mill medical practices in Missouri, as doctors cannot make a practice purely out of certifying patients. The measure says doctors issuing medical marijuana certifications must still write at least 75 percent of their prescriptions for other drugs.

Under the proposed law, Missouri patients would be required to register with the state and renew annually at a cost of $25 for the identification card. The law sets up a 4 percent tax rate above retail sale price for cannabis products, mandating that at least 95 percent of that revenue be allocated to a newly-created Missouri Veterans’ Health and Care Fund. That fund, maintained by the state’s treasurer, would funnel monies to the Missouri Veterans Commission to provide veterans health services, including mental health care and drug rehabilitation. It would also provide housing assistance, job training, and tuition assistance for veterans.

“This measure is an absolutely win-win for Missouri veterans. Not only will it provide veterans suffering illnesses much-needed relief, but it will provided invaluable resources for our underfunded veterans healthcare programs throughout Missouri,” Tom Mundell, initiative co-launcher and president of the Missouri Association of Veterans Organizations, told the Riverfront Times.

Cardetti lauded Mundell’s work on behalf of veterans and echoed his initiative partner’s belief that underfunded veteran programs would benefit. Not only will implementation of the constitutional amendment produce some revenue, he said, but also “some of these veterans are the exact type of patients who will benefit” from access to treating health conditions with cannabis.

The initiative’s 4 percent taxation rate compares favorably with two adult-use bills currently in Missouri’s legislature that would set the recreational taxation level alternatively at no more than 15 percent or 12.9 percent.

One intent of the initiative is to limit large-scale cultivation. Under the proposed measure, no more than 12 flowering plants may be cultivated in a single closed, locked facility, unless a primary caregiver is also a patient, in which case the limit is 18 plants. Qualifying patients would be allowed to purchase a minimum of six ounces every 30 days, however, and whenever limits are ultimately set by the Department, penalties begin at “purposefully possessing” more than twice that amount.

Cardetti said that ultimately Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services would promulgate regulations about cultivation and possession limits.

Do you live in Missouri and plan to gather petitions before the deadline? Tell us in the comments below.

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