There's still hope for medical marijuana in 2014.
Despite some setbacks earlier this year, marijuana-reform advocates say that a medical-marijuana bill is off to a good start in the legislative process and might have a chance of getting on the November ballot.
SB 951, which was introduced by Senator Jason Holsman, would legalize marijuana solely for medicinal purposes. People suffering from certain conditions would be allowed up to four ounces of their medicine and sales on it would be taxed at a rate of 8 percent.
The state senate's General Laws Committee held the hearing Tuesday and allowed several reform advocates, including activists and mothers of sick children, to speak their mind about the law proposal. And according to those who testified, the feeling in the room was that the bill had a good chance of getting to the next stage.
"I think it went really well," John Payne, executive director of Show-Me Cannabis, tells Daily RFT. "I'm optimistic the committee will approve it. They'll probably make some amendments to it, but I'm optimistic they will approve it."
Heidi Rayl testified in front of the senate committee and told the story of her four-year-old son Zayden, who has a severe form of epilepsy that causes him multiple seizures a day. Rayl gives her son cannabis oil to lessen the seizures.
Rayl tells us that the committee appeared genuinely interested in the idea of medical marijuana and her son's treatment
"They were very receptive," Rayl says. "They asked questions about different forms of medical marijuana, which parts of the plants worked."
However, she points out that the committee members were especially interested in cannabis oils for medicinal use, but less so in smokeable marijuana, which gave her some concerns.
"[Legalized cannabis oils] would help my son very much, but the sad thing is that for people who have Crohn's disease and who have digestive issues -- vaporizing is the best thing for them and they wouldn't have this option," she says.
Payne says that alterations to the bill, which is moderate compared to other states' medical-marijuana laws, will likely happen in order to make the state's more conservative lawmakers feel comfortable voting for it.
"Hopefully, we can pass something that's fairly robust," Payne says. "I think if the members of the legislature were to have a vote on both floors of a decent medical-marijuana proposal and legislators voted their conscience, I think we could pass it this year. The thing is, this is an election year and legislators are not often voting their conscience in election years."
Click on the next page for more and a video of the hearing...
Although advocates believe that Holsman's bill will need to be watered down to appeal to some lawmakers, no anti-marijuana groups were at the hearing to put on pressure.
"There was almost no opposition there. It just wasn't what I expected," says Nikki Furrer, a St. Louis woman who testified on behalf of her brother, an adult with brain damage who wants to use medical marijuana to lessen his seizures.
The only person who cautioned about medical marijuana was Brad Bates, a lobbyist for the Missouri Association of Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons. But he didn't challenge the medicinal properties of marijuana =- he only warned about potential problems for doctors who prescribe it to patients because the FDA hasn't approved the medicine.
Marijuana reform still has a small but vocal opposition, including law enforcement and anti-drug groups. But their absence at the hearing was a sign that there isn't a strong voice against medical marijuana in Missouri, according to Eapen Thampy, drug policy advisory board member for the Our America Initiative, who also testified at the hearing.
"They just don't have an answer to the mothers who need medical cannabis for their children or the people with cancer who need it for their treatment," Thampy says.
Although reform advocates are feeling optimistic about Holsman's medical marijuana bill, there are still several more steps to go. If the General Laws Committee votes in favor of the bill, it will then go for a vote on the senate floor. If that goes well, the state House will vote on whether the proposal goes on the November ballot.
And if it gets on the ballot, Missouri voters will get to make the decision on medical marijuana in the Show-Me State.
A bill to legalize hemp for industrial use is also moving along the same route and is expected by many to have a good chance of passing.
But although industrial hemp will create jobs and help the state's economy, it's the medical marijuana question that will affect Missourians the most.
For Rayl, it means giving her son a medicine that she has seen work more effectively than anything else.
"The people who are against it, I really wish they can see my son, see what he goes through," she says. "We've done everything -- every med, surgery with brain implants, special diets. We've literally done everything. I hope we can change the minds of the people who disagree with it."
Rayl is planning on returning to the capitol later this month with other advocates to knock on legislators' doors to get more support for the bill. It's something she's been doing quite a bit lately, but not because she likes to.
"People say to me, 'We can tell you want to be here,'" Rayl says. "But I really don't want to be -- I have to be. And I think any parent who cares would."
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