A ballot initiative to fully legalize cannabis in Missouri is attempting to gain traction. A group called Sensible Missouri is currently gathering signatures for the Missouri Cannabis Restoration and Protection Act 2016-013.
The Act, if it became law, would legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use, allow unlimited commercial and recreational cultivation, and even legalize hemp. This far-reaching effort would remove cannabis from Missouri’s list of controlled substances, allowing both marijuana and hemp to be used for a variety of purposes.
This ambitious legislation features no tax on medical marijuana, no special tax on recreational sales (only state and local sales tax would apply), and no licensing fees or registration for personal cultivation. It would also provide amnesty to those convicted of non-violent cannabis-related offenders, including the “immediate expungement of civil and criminal records.” On its website, Sensible Missouri claims that its mission is “Nothing Less Than TOTAL Legalization.”
In an exclusive interview with Whaxy, Brittany Lind, a Sensible Missouri board member, said “No one should be allowed to profit off of the misfortune of the sick and dying.”
To purchase tax-free medical cannabis, patients would be required to obtain a doctor’s recommendation. This is about as strict as this bill gets. It imposes no restrictions on possession or cultivation of cannabis and includes specific language to protect doctors who recommend it. It also in no way restricts the open market from establishing manufacturing facilities, retail stores, and medical dispensaries. The bill does, however, explicitly outlaw the use of Missouri law enforcement resources or state funds to “aid in the enforcement of federal cannabis laws involving acts which are no longer illegal in the State of Missouri under this amendment.”
In its mission statement, the group claims full legalization will help achieve its goal of improving Missouri’s economy and reinvigorate the farming community. But will “total,” almost fully unregulated legal pot be too much for the average voter in Missouri? Will the bill be defeated based on its wide-ranging, aggressive goals and lack of regulation?
Recent polls have shown that the majority of Americans, by very thin margins, support recreational marijuana. Even higher approval ratings have been shown for medical cannabis. Will this initiative’s lack of grow limits and limited tax revenue convince citizens that full legalization, with almost no regulation, is good for the state? With such a Libertarian tone, will adversaries of the bill use old prohibitionist tactics of scaremongering and misinformation to convince voters in The Show Me State to say no to legal cannabis?
A recent article credited Colorado’s relative success with marijuana legalization to the fact that it’s law is “a system that is not designed to fail.”
Does the state live up to the hype? How does it compare to others that have legalized cannabis in some form? Should states considering legalization model Colorado’s system?
What has been as impressive as Colorado’s compassion toward patients and its respect for recreational users is the entrepreneurial production and dispensation infrastructure that has emerged to bring the law to fruition. At the recent Marijuana Investor Summit in Denver, it was estimated that cannabis sales in the 23 states that have legalized medical use of the plant equal roughly $3 billion annually.
For the month of March, Colorado reported revenues of nearly $43 million for recreational pot, up from $36 million in January. Also during March, residents of the Centennial State purchased $32 million in medical marijuana through dispensaries. Overall, this represents nearly $80 million in cannabis revenue in the state during a single month — only 16 months after it became legal.
These figures also don’t include ancillary benefits to the state’s economy, namely in the form of cash infused into third-party service companies that support the cultivation, marketing, resale, and consumption of marijuana (all of which also pay taxes).
Numbers like these indicate the emergence of a true industry, regardless of the stigma or federal legality of the plant behind it. Just as coal, a single substance, has produced a robust industry that has generated trillions of dollars in commerce over the course of decades, cannabis, a single plant, is on the verge of adding hundreds of billions of dollars a year to the national economy.
In a country suffering one of the most protracted and sluggish economic recoveries in its history, Colorado’s marijuana success is possibly more about bringing America back to its roots of self-sufficiency, small companies, and lone proprietors than the freedom to smoke pot or even the plant’s medicinal value.
For years, small businesspeople have been challenged to offer more to their communities than fast food franchises, car washes, and 10-minute lube shops. While speciality services like cupcake stores, in-home pet services, and hipster-friendly whiskey bars have offered new opportunities, all share the characteristic of being relatively trendy. If folks aren’t wolfing down cupcakes or $10 shots of bourbon in record numbers five or eight years from now, do entrepreneurs really want to invest their life savings in such a business?
No one, however — conservative or liberal — can label cannabis a trend. Its cultural significance, especially in America, has been cemented by decades of blues and rock music, mainstream films, and popular literature. Demand for the herb, in all forms, has always exceeded supply (this is only beginning to change in states like Washington and Colorado). Humans have been using cannabis in one form or another for 10,000 years.
Colorado certainly isn’t the only state to have legalized medical marijuana. The state’s med pot law was passed way back in 2000, only four years after California voters approved Proposition 215 and two years following Oregon’s enactment of the nation’s second medical law. Colorado is, however, among the few rare states that allow recreational cannabis cultivation and regulated commercial sales. Because Colorado was the first to bat, its system is simply more mature than what is being rolled out in Alaska, D.C., Oregon, and Washington.
Entrepreneurs & Tax Revenue
Regardless of the success of these states, the effectiveness of Colorado’s law in creating a thriving business space for entrepreneurs while generating tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue can’t be denied. Prohibitionist fears of increased crime, more student dropouts, and higher traffic fatality rates have clearly not materialized. Schools are getting a slice of the pie, regardless of exactly how much or original estimates. Marijuana-related arrests in the state have taken a steep dive, allowing cops to focus on serious violent crime and saving taxpayers money. Even the Republicans seem to be happy.
Bringing one back to the theme of Colorado’s law being designed to succeed. A recent spate of CBD-only medical laws has emerged in states like Texas, Georgia, and New York. With the arguable exception of New York’s painfully detailed law, those from Texas and Georgia seem purposefully intended to fail. It’s as if the schoolyard bully stole the citizens’ lollypop and, upon the demand of its return, said, “Fine, pick it up” as he flung it into the dirt.
Texas’ new law, enacted in late May, is an exceptional effort in political obstructionism and ineffective legislation. Like Georgia, Texas has legalized only high-CBD, low-THC treatments and prohibited whole plant cannabis, including home cultivation, smoking, vaping, and even edibles.
But that’s not the worst part of the new law. In most states, patients must receive a doctor recommendation prior to obtaining and using medical marijuana. A recommendation, unlike a prescription, is protected speech under the First Amendment. The new law in Texas, however, explicitly requires doctors to write prescriptions for CBD oil.
Will Doctors Risk It?
Because the federal government has categorized cannabis as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, the feds necessarily regard it as a harmful drug providing no medical benefit whatsoever. Any doctor in Texas who officially prescribes cannabis — or a single-cannabinoid, non-psychoactive extraction like CBD oil — is in violation of federal law and at risk of losing their license.
Will intelligent physicians in Texas prescribe marijuana with a chance of losing their medical practice? It’s nice to think that some kind doctors would put it all on the line and write prescriptions for their patients in need. However, those who do will be taking a significant risk. The limited medical cannabis law in Texas is the epitome of “designed to fail.”
Colorado and Texas are probably the best examples of the respective success and failure of medical marijuana in the United States to date. As even conservative states jump into the fray of limited medical laws, it will be interesting to see how cannabis policy in Colorado evolves — and how many more “cannabis refuge” families will be compelled to move from states like Texas, Ohio, and New Jersey simply to gain the ability to legally medicate their sick children.
The good news for patients living in Pennsylvania? The state’s legislature approved a very limited medical marijuana bill by a margin of 40 to 7 in the Senate.
The bad news: The bill, SB3, would strictly prohibit not only smoking or vaping dried plant material, but also edibles. Approved are only oils, pills, and tinctures. The bill originally excluded vaporizing in any form. An update to the bill allows vaping only by cancer, seizure (epilepsy), and PTSD patients — and only after a doctor’s approval.
The bill now moves to the Pennsylvania House, where it faces greater opposition. This may result in an even more strict version of the bill being introduced.
According to Chris Goldstein of Philly.com:
“In the long term, SB3 may help a handful of patients. In the short term, it will leave hundreds of thousands of seriously ill residents at risk and without safe access.”
The bill has some other notable shortcomings when compared to the medical cannabis laws of other states. The most significant is a lack of home cultivation. Of course, if patients aren’t allowed to smoke or even vape the cannabis they would grow, and couldn’t even make edibles, the utility of a home garden would become minimal for those lacking the ability to produce their own oils or tinctures.
It’s admirable that a relatively conservative state like Pennsylvania is pursuing some form of legal medical marijuana for its citizens. However, the current bill — if it becomes law — will do very little for the vast majority of the state’s sick who might choose to medicate with cannabis instead of pharmaceutical drugs.
On Thursday, April 30, Congress defeated a bill that would have allowed Veterans Administration (VA) doctors to prescribe medical marijuana for military veterans. Currently, it is against policy for VA doctors to complete the necessary documentation to allow a veteran to qualify for medical cannabis — even for vets who reside in states where medical or recreational marijuana is legal.
The Veterans Equal Access Act had bi-partisan support and was co-sponsored by three Democrats and five Republicans. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to prevent it from being defeated by only three votes (213 against, 210 for).
In response to the results, Dan Riffle, the Federal Policy Director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) in Washington, D.C. optimistically Tweeted:
“Last year VA vote lost 195-221. This year it was 210-213. Sucks to lose, but gotta recognize progress. Onward…”
The unfortunate aspect of these results is that 213 members of Congress are against helping the nation’s veterans gain relief from conditions obtained while serving their country — simply because the source of that relief is a stigmatized and embattled plant. Veterans suffering from extreme post traumatic stress disorder, brain injuries, depression, and other ailments, many of whom could gain considerable relief from medical cannabis, will get no help from the Veterans Administration or Congress.
According to the MPP, “Approximately 20 percent of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are diagnosed with depression, anxiety, or PTSD.” The lobbying group also reported that, due largely to these conditions, the suicide rate of veterans is 50 percent higher than the national average.
According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, states that have legalized medical marijuana have noticed a decrease in suicide rates. Despite this evidence, Congress has decided to put politics and fear above the needs of the soldiers who have made significant sacrifices for the nation.
It’s too soon to say if the bill will be reintroduced again by its sponsors. One thing is certain, however: As Congress drags its feet and refuses to face the reality of the medical efficacy of cannabis, states will continue to implement medical marijuana programs. Sadly, it appears that, for the time being, soldiers who gain relief from cannabis will do so not with help from their VA doctor, but instead via the black market or in a state that has legalized it.
On the heels of marijuana surveys from Pew Research and Bloomberg, CBS News, with a nod to the culture on April 20, released its own survey results. The big picture: 53 percent of those responding favor legal recreational marijuana, while 43 percent oppose it (among 1,012 adults surveyed nationwide). 84 percent of those surveyed support legal medical marijuana.
These numbers reflect a sea change in public opinion. As recently as 2011, only 40 percent of those responding to the CBS study favored legal cannabis. In the first year of the survey, 1979, only 27 percent supported legal pot, while a whopping 69 percent believed it should be illegal.
The finding that 53 percent of adults support legal recreational cannabis echoes the recent Pew Research and Bloomberg studies, both of which revealed the exact same percentage of supporters. Bloomberg also found that 73 percent support legal medical cannabis (lower than the CBS figure of 84 percent) and that 68 percent are “more likely” to vote on the issue if it comes up on their ballot.
The CBS News survey revealed some things not exposed in the Pew and Bloomberg studies. For example, 51 percent of respondents said alcohol is more dangerous than cannabis, with 28 percent saying they are both equally harmful. As a group, men are more likely to support legal marijuana, while women are split on the issue.
Like the recent Pew study revealed, an overwhelming majority of young people support legalization. As shown in previous studies, a larger percentage of Democrats than Republicans support legalization.