By John Payne
Last Tuesday, April 1, committees in the Missouri state legislature heard testimony on both medical cannabis and industrial hemp. Both hearings generated a great deal of interest and support from legislators, and they represent major progress for cannabis law reformers in Jefferson City.
First, the Senate General Laws Committee heard S.B. 951, which would allow Missourians to vote on a medical cannabis referendum this November. Senator Jason Holsman (D - Kansas City), who sponsored the proposal, began the hearing by condemning prohibition and advocating for a legal, regulated market in cannabis. He acknowledged that S.B. 951 does not fully legalize cannabis, but that it was an important step in that direction that would allow those most in need to legally access the medicine that helps them lead full, productive lives.
Senator Holsman explained that he introduced the bill at the request of a member of his church, who had been diagnosed with cancer shortly after Holsman was elected to the Senate. The man was also a conservative Republican and did not want to break the law to use the medicine that gave him relief. A month later, the man passed away, but Senator Holsman kept his promise by introducing S.B. 951.
A number of patients testified about the ways medical cannabis has helped or could help them and their families --- and, in some cases, how prohibition has devastated their lives. Daryl Bertrand described growing his own medical cannabis to treat a degenerative spinal disease, until the local drug task force raided his home, making him a felon and destroying his business in the process.
Dolores Halbin testified passionately about the recent SWAT raid on her home in Bates County that was featured in the Kansas City Star at the end of March. Her husband Gene grew cannabis to treat his glaucoma, and they are now facing criminal charges.
Brandy Johnson and Heidi Rayl both testified again about how medical cannabis could help control the seizures that their sons --- Tres and Zayden, respectively --- live with every hour of every day. "No mother wants to see their son or daughter die," Brandy said. "If you have to worry about that on a daily basis, to live every hour wondering if this is going to be the last seizure your child has, knowing there is an alternative medication out there, I think we should have the right to all available treatment for our children."
Nikki Furrer testified on behalf of her developmentally disabled brother, who could benefit from a THC and CBD combination extracted from cannabis. She pointed out that although the legislators might worry that some medical cannabis will be diverted to the recreational market, her brother should not have to suffer from seizure after seizure because of that.
Dr. Gil Mobley --- who currently practices in Springfield, but formerly practiced in Washington state and made medical cannabis recommendations there --- helped the committee understand the science behind medical cannabis. He explained that both THC and CBD are important for many patients, and that it is important to allow a number of different methods of administration. Dr. Mobley advised that vaporizers can allow those who need a direct form of administration to get the same effects without the danger of combustion.
Committee Chairman Brian Nieves (R - Washington) seemed quite intrigued by the vaporizer that Dr. Mobley showed the committee and humorously asked a number of witnesses about their experiences with vaporizers. But joking aside, Senator Nieves and the entire committee seemed moved by the hearing. Vice Chair Rob Schaaf (R - Saint Joseph), a doctor himself, thanked Senator Holsman for introducing the bill and discussed the relief he saw patients receive from medical cannabis during his time working in a hospice.
Notably, only one person, a lobbyist for an association of doctors, testified against the bill. Moreover, the group did not oppose medical cannabis in principle; they just wanted to be assured that if doctors recommended medical cannabis, they would not face liability for recommending a substance that has not been approved by the FDA.
The Senate was called back into session before the committee had a chance to vote on the bill, but I am optimistic that the committee will advance the bill to the floor where it can be considered by the entire chamber. We will keep you updated here as the process evolves, and I encourage you to watch a video of the entire hearing here.
In the meantime, if your state Senator sits on the General Laws Committee, please call them now and urge them to vote in favor of S.B. 951:
- Doug Libla (Representing Butler, Carter, Dunklin, Mississippi, New Madrid, Pemiscot, Shannon, and Stoddard counties): 573-751-4843
- Jamilah Nasheed (Represents part of Saint Louis City): 573-751-4415
- Brian Nieves (Represents Franklin and west Saint Louis counties): 573-751-3678
- Gary Romine (Represents Iron, Reynolds, Sainte Francois, Sainte Genevieve, Washington counties, and part of Jefferson County): 573-751-4008
- Ryan Silvey (Represents part of Clay County): 573-751-5282
- Rob Schaaf (Represents Buchanan and Platte counties) 573-751-2183
(I have omitted Senator Holsman, as we presume he will vote for his own bill.)
This hearing represents tremendous progress for medical cannabis in Missouri. According to Show-Me Cannabis Regulation Board Chairman and Missouri NORML coordinator Dan Viets, this is the first time a medical cannabis bill has ever received a hearing in the state Senate, and I think it's safe to say that we made a good first impression!
We need to keep the momentum generated by this hearing, and one way we will do that is by putting the stories of medical cannabis patients in front of Missourians across the state. This week, I hope to have ads running on KSHE in Saint Louis, including a testimonial from Abby Rowe, a medical cannabis refugee living in Colorado. We worked with her to submit written testimony to the committee, and she has recorded a radio ad explaining how she uses medical cannabis to treat the effects of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.
Help us air her testimonial and others like it by making a contribution now. Stories like these are what force prohibitionists to change their misguided opinions about cannabis, and the more Missourians hear them, the more they will demand change to our destructive cannabis laws!
Over in the House of Representatives, the Economic Development Committee held a hearing on H.B. 2054, which would legalize the production of industrial hemp. After the bill was introduced by sponsor Mike Colona (D - Saint Louis), the first witness was Paige Figi. Paige is the mother of Charlotte Figi, who was made famous by Sanjay Gupta' documentary Weed, and she testified that the bill would allow Missouri to produce Charlotte's Web, a strain of medical cannabis high in CBD and so low in THC that it would qualify as hemp under the bill.
Subsequent witnesses discussed the numerous ways hemp could benefit the state economically. Our own Amber Langston provided incredibly informative testimony about the evolution of laws surrounding the issue, why Missouri is a prime state to grow hemp, and how the products made from hemp are already a $500 million industry in the United States --- our farmers simply aren't allowed to produce those raw materials.
Remarkably, a number of Republican committee members voiced support for industrial hemp during the hearing, and several legislators contacted our lobbyist after the hearing to say that they found the hearing very informative and educational!
As with the medical cannabis bill, if your representative serves on the Economic Development Committee, please call their office and ask them to support passing the bill out of committee. This committee is very large, so Iisting each member would be very burdensome, but you can find the whole list here. (If you aren't sure who your representative is, go here to find out!)
For the first time, legislators in Jefferson City are interested in learning about cannabis and how our laws can be reformed to benefit Missouri! The taboo that has surrounded the issue for over 75 years is finally falling away, and we are providing the legislature with accurate information on the subject. They are listening now, and it is making a difference!
None of that happens, however, without your support. Organizing a successful hearing requires time and resources for research; finding and contacting witnesses; creating fact sheets; travel costs; and paying our lobbyists to keep the conversation going after the hearing is over.
Make a difference with us by contributing $50 now, or create sustained change by signing up for a $20 monthly pledge!