The Missouri House of Representatives has approved legislation which would legalize the use of marijuana by individuals suffering from terminal illnesses or what the bill describes as “debilitating medical conditions.” The House endorsed the proposal (House Committee Substitute for House Bill 1544) last week by a vote of 112-44. The legislation is sponsored by Representative Jim Neely of Cameron, who is a physician. Proponents have touted the palliative virtues of so-called “medical marijuana.” The drug has acquired that moniker despite the fact that marijuana does not meet the definition of a medicine (a substance or compound that treats or prevents a disease or illness) nor has it been proven to have any therapeutic benefits.
The bill prescribes that the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) shall issue “medical cannabis registration cards” to qualifying individuals to obtain marijuana. “Medical cannabis” is defined as “a noncombustible extract from a cannabis plant or a noncombustible mixture or preparation containing cannabis plant material.” The drug would be dispensed from so-called “cannabis care centers,” which would be operated by businesses with “cannabis cultivation and production facility licenses” issued by the Missouri Department of Agriculture.
In order to obtain a “medical cannabis registration card,” an individual would have to present a statement from a physician that he or she has a terminal illness or is suffering from a “debilitating medical condition,” and that the individual “may benefit from treatment with medical cannabis.” Conditions which the proposed law describe as “debilitating” include cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ulcerative colitis, “agitation” of Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, or post-traumatic stress disorder. DHSS would have the authority to add other “debilitating” medical conditions to that list.
“We must show compassion for patients without hope,” Representative Neely says. “Anybody that has seen people suffer–there ought to be a way to make things a little better. I think this might be a reasonable approach.” Neely’s daughter died of cancer two years ago after a protracted period of suffering.
Opponents of the bill argued that the use of marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act, which means that federal authorities regard the drug as being highly addictive and lacking medical benefit. A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2005 affirmed that the federal government has the constitutional authority to prohibit use of marijuana for any purpose.Representative Kirk Mathews of Pacific also questioned whether the Legislature was acting with due diligence. “I don’t know of any other medications that become medicine by an act of the Legislature, versus the process that we’ve used for years in the history of our country, with FDA (Food and Drug Administration) clinical trials, double-blind studies, and the like.”
Supporters of the bill urged the Legislature to act now, saying that a successful initiative petition drive by voters could leave the state with much more liberal marijuana legislation. We address that subject in the adjacent story. House Bill 1544 now moves to the Senate, where its prospects for final passage in the last two weeks of the legislative session are poor.