In the 2016 session, a proposal to legalize medical marijuana was defeated twice in the Missouri House. Members in support of the measure portrayed the bill as a more restrained approach to any proposed constitutional amendment being pursued by those pushing an initiative petition for the 2016 ballot. This legislation would have allowed doctors to recommend marijuana for their patients suffering from certain debilitating illnesses. The proposal would have regulated the licensing for commercial marijuana growers and retailers, along with creating a system to track the drug from seed to sale.
Some supporters of the House bill tried to say that passing the legislation would give the state more statutory control over the regulation of the drug than if an initiative was passed by voters. Supporters added, “You could let the out-of-state interests come in, put this on the ballot and do it their way. Or, we could do it our way: cautiously, slowly, and statutorily, allowing ourselves to fix any potential problems going into the future.” Those in opposition countered by saying that it didn’t matter whether a statutory measure was passed, because a constitutional amendment would have negated it anyway. Not only did the House bill fail, but petitioners were unable to put either measure on this year’s ballot.
Despite medical marijuana laws in many states, usage is still illegal under federal law. Washington regulates drugs through the Control Substances Act (CSA), which, at this time, does not recognize the difference between medical and recreational use of marijuana. Under the CSA, marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug, viewed as highly addictive and having little to no medical value. Thus, federal law still considers cannabis a dangerous, illegal drug.
Congress has proposed legislation called the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act (CARERS) to help find answers to the marijuana conflict between state and federal government. Three main issues will be considered: allowing state programs to continue without federal interference, moving marijuana off the Schedule 1 drug list, and creating access to banking services for legal marijuana businesses. Congress has until December 31 of 2016 to pass this act, or the legislation will die.
Today, four states have legalized marijuana for recreational use—Colorado and Washington in 2012 and Oregon and Alaska in 2014. Currently, three more western states—California, Nevada, and Arizona—have legalization initiatives on their November ballots. Since 1969, Gallop Poll has been following Americans’ usage of marijuana. In 1969, only 4% of Americans had tried it. Today that figure is 43%; however, in just three years since legalization of the drug in those four states, usage has nearly doubled, from 7% to 13%
For some individuals who live in states that have legalized marijuana—either medical or recreational—their concern is that the drug is getting into the food chain, causing both children and adults to become ill. For example, in Colorado, one can go into a business that sells marijuana and purchase the product in the form of various foods, such as candies, snacks, and even salad dressings. These and other issues are ones that states, including Missouri, will be required to address. Medical marijuana is now legal in 23 states. We are not one of them.
The general attitude of the country concerning marijuana is changing. In 1969, 12% of Americans supported its legalization. Today, 58% support an end to marijuana prohibition. Though many would have us believe marijuana is harmless, those in public safety fields have seen increases in medical emergencies from the ingesting of this drug. Furthermore, they are seeing increases in impaired memory and rising numbers of addictions, especially in young users. While there are those who want us to believe marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco, statistics are showing otherwise.
In the near future, marijuana legalization and regulation will be a subject facing not only Missouri but numerous other states, as well. I anticipate intense discussion will come from both sides of this issue. It’s my belief that most Missourians don’t want our state to become a recreational marijuana-use state, like Colorado. On the medical side of the controversy, though, is that it appears we need more research to determine marijuana’s efficacy.
Finally, let’s all remember that most of our area schools will begin their new year this week. We realize it’s generally a very busy and hectic time for both students and their parents, as school prep intensifies in its final days. When school opens and we are driving near zones or areas where children are walking to school, we need to remind ourselves to slow down, keep alert, and be extra watchful of young people as they make their way to their respective locations. For everyone’s safety, please drive cautiously and courteously, taking extra care during those times when school begins or is dismissed. Help ensure everyone arrives at his or her destination safely. Also, while classes are in session, we encourage all administrators, teachers, and students to work together to make this a productive and a highly successful year.