Missouri Secretary of State Pushes Legislature on Medical Mariuana

Medical marijuana won’t be on Missouri’s ballot this year, but the man who heads the office responsible for blocking it is now pushing for patients to be able to legally access cannabis soon.

Secretary of State Jason Kander ruled last month that advocates fell narrowly short of collecting enough signatures to put a medical marijuana measure before voters in November. The ballot measure campaign sued, but a judge this week rejected their arguments that otherwise-valid signatures accidentally entered onto the wrong county forms should be counted.

And now Kander, currently a candidate for U.S. Senate, is doing medical marijuana advocates a solid by pressuring state lawmakers to pass legislation so that patients don’t have to wait for another possible ballot measure in 2018.

“While supporters of this important proposal can try to put it on the ballot again in two years, I believe it is time for the state legislature to step up,” Kander said in a press release on Thursday. “The Missouri General Assembly should pass legislation to allow medical marijuana so Missouri families that could greatly benefit from it don’t have to watch their loved ones continue suffering.”

Kander, a Democrat, is challenging incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt. Polls have generally shown Blunt leading, but a recent survey from Emerson College found Kander ahead by two percentage points.

The RealClearPolitics poll average shows Blunt leading by 3.4 points. The Huffington Post’s polling model puts Blunt ahead, 43.2 percent to 38.3 percent, and the Cook Political Report rates the race as “leans Republican,” just one step away from a toss up.

As in most of the country, medical marijuana polls extremely well in Missouri. A survey conducted by Missouri Scout last October found 70 percent support for the proposed ballot measure.

Recognizing this, Kander’s Thursday press release could be part of a concerted effort to make sure voters don’t see his office’s blocking of the medical marijuana measure as an indication that he holds an out-of-touch view on the issue and that the rejection was merely based on legal technicalities.

Blunt, for his part, has voted in the Senate Appropriations Committee for amendments to prevent the Department of Justice from interfering with state medical marijuana laws. While he voted no by proxy on an amendment last year to increase military veterans’ access to medical marijuana through the Department of Veterans Affairs, Blunt supported this year’s version of the measure. But he voted against an amendment to allow state-legal marijuana businesses to have access to banking services.

The proposed Missouri medical marijuana ballot measure, sponsored by New Approach Missouri, would have allowed doctors to recommend medical cannabis to patients, who would then be able to possess and use it and grow up to six plants at home. There was no strict list of medical conditions to qualify, so physicians would have been able to recommend cannabis to any patient they think it would help. The initiative would also have created a system of regulated dispensaries around the state where patients could legally purchase marijuana.

State lawmakers have considered a number of medical cannabis bills in recent years, but none have come close to being enacted. In 2014 the state legislature did pass a bill allowing people suffering from severe seizure disorders to use non-psychoactive cannabis preparations that are rich in cannabidiol (CBD), but it isn’t clear how many patients have been able to benefit from the restrictive regulations. This year the legislature came close to putting a referendum on the state’s August primary ballot to allow medical marijuana for end of life care, but it was narrowly voted down in the House.

Advocates have said they will pressure the legislature to enact a comprehensive medical cannabis measure next year and, failing that, are likely to try again for another ballot initiative.

Kander said that if the legislature is not willing to pass medical marijuana on its own, it should “at least put the measure on the ballot themselves in 2018 to give Missouri voters the opportunity to decide on this issue.” Doing so would spare advocates from having to conduct another costly signature gathering drive.

Photo Courtesy of Allie Beckett.

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