The Missouri House of Representatives voted 112-44 Tuesday to legalize medical marijuana for people with several health conditions, sending the measure to the Missouri Senate.
If enacted, House Bill 1554 would allow people with terminal illnesses verified by doctors to request a registration card from the state that would allow them to possess and use smokeless marijuana. An amendment attached to the bill expanded access to people with other conditions, including cancer, Parkinson's and epilepsy, even if they're not considered terminal.
The bill was spearheaded by Rep. Jim Neely, a Republican from Cameron whose daughter died of cancer three years ago. Neely is also a physician who has worked in hospice care.
“We want to provide this comfort to the folks here in Missouri," Neely said.
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Opponents of the bill noted that it would allow medical marijuana treatments to bypass the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's clinical trial process for determining the safety and effectiveness of new drugs and that it could lead to more recreational marijuana use, especially among children.
There were also concerns that the amendment broadened the bill too much.
Rep. Lynn Morris, a Republican from Nixa, said the things he had seen while visiting his mother in a nursing home's memory care unit made him skeptical of adding Alzheimer's to the list of conditions that can be treated with marijuana.
"I don’t think there’s anything medical marijuana could have done for that person, for my mom," Morris said. "I’m wondering whether we took too big of a step by attaching all these amendments onto a wonderful bill of just taking care of people in the dying process.”
Still, Morris ultimately voted for the bill, saying he thought it included enough state oversight to satisfy him and the Missouri Senate could "strip out what they want to strip out.”
There's no timeline yet for when the senate might take up the bill.
There are also several groups collecting signatures to put various medical marijuana questions on the ballot in Missouri for the November elections.
The proposed questions have different language and some would broaden marijuana access more than others.
Neely told his colleagues that if the legislature doesn't pass medical marijuana this year, voters may view those as their only options.
"We might lose control of which direction we’re going to go in,” Neely said.
With three weeks left in the session, Neely said he was optimistic the bill would become law.
Nationwide, 29 states have legalized medical marijuana, and nine states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Weed is still illegal under federal law.
Steve Levine, an attorney with Husch Blackwell in Denver who represents clients in the legal marijuana business there, said the conflict between state and federal law continues to cause headaches especially when it comes to things like banking and the tax code.
But it doesn't seem to be halting the state-by-state march to legalization.
“I think there’s been a pretty strong push nationally," Levine said, "and even in conservative states, Gallup polls are over 60 percent in support of medical marijuana.”