After months of review, the Republican administration of Governor Mike Parson announced it will allow Missourians who receive certain welfare benefits to use medical cannabis with no repercussions.
In a statement to the Post-Dispatch, the Department of Social Services said participants in the federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program would no longer be in danger of losing their benefits if they test positive for marijuana so long as they have a legally-issued medical cannabis card.
Although, those who fail or opt out of a drug screening will be banned from receiving benefits for three years and required to complete a substance abuse treatment program, even if they are legal MMJ patients, according to spokesperson for the Dept. of Social Services Rebecca Woelfel.
The decision overturns a 2011 law signed by former Gov. Jay Nixon, which oversaw a program to screen welfare recipients for drug use.
Still Prohibited to Veterans in Nursing Homes
Unfortunately, the decision does not include the state’s several thousand US military veterans. Residents and employees of Missouri’s seven nursing homes for veterans will be barred legal access to medical marijuana, which was approved by more than 65% of voters in Nov. 2018.
The Missouri Veterans Commission (MVC) opted to prohibit the use of MMJ in order for them to keep their federal funding, which covers a portion of the more than $80 million needed to operate the facilities.
MCV Executive Director Grace Link said the nursing homes will prohibit medical marijuana in order to stay in compliance with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which still considers pot an illegal drug.
A State Senator Steps Up
Questions about how the state’s social services would handle medical marijuana issues prompted State Senator Jamilah Nasheed (D-St. Louis), to introduce legislation in January 2019 that would allow recipients of welfare to keep their benefits if they tested positive for medical marijuana.
Many Missourian patients were concerned that drug testing would force needy families to choose between state assistance and medical marijuana.
Missouri patients suffering from 10 debilitating illnesses, including Parkinson’s, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, epilepsy, glaucoma and cancer qualify for medical marijuana.
Drug Testing Welfare Recipients Turns up Surprising Results
In 2018, thirteen US states spent more than $200,000 screening federal-aid applicants for drugs. Only 338 people tested positive, according to data gathered by ThinkProgress.
In total, the states required more than 260,000 people to submit to drug screening or testing as a condition of receiving TANF (welfare benefits), which provides cash assistance to low-income people.
In some states, not one person tested positive.
While universal drug testing for TANF was ruled unconstitutional in 2014, 12 states still require either applicants or beneficiaries with a “reasonable suspicion” of drug misuse to be tested: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.
Until this week, Missouri was on that list.