Medical marijuana issue resurfaces

March 03, 2004

Gaurav Ghose, Columbia Missourian

JEFFERSON CITY — A bill that would legalize marijuana for medical uses has resurfaced this legislative session after being killed last year.

The House Health Care Policy Committee heard testimony Wednesday from people both in favor of and against the bill.

After the hearing, bill sponsor Rep. Vicki Walker, D-Kansas City, said she is much more hopeful this year after last year’s contentious hearing.

According to the bill, the use of marijuana would be restricted to patients suffering from cancer, glaucoma, HIV and AIDS. Walker suggested to the committee that multiple sclerosis be included in that list.

Citing her own father-in-law’s serious medical condition when he was suffering from lung cancer, Walker said the usage would go a long way to alleviate pain, nauseated feeling and loss of appetite.

Supporters of the bill cited examples of the benefits of marijuana use to relieve patients suffering from chronic pain. They added that Missouri law currently allows doctors to authorize patients to use cocaine and opium to treat some medical conditions.

“To authorize the same doctors to recommend marijuana is to ask for a very small thing,” said Dan Viets, an attorney from Columbia and a long time advocate of legalization of marijuana use.

However, concerns about children and safety were raised by a few members.

Opposing the bill, Rep. Bryan Pratt, R-Blue Springs, said he was particularly concerned that legalizing marijuana would undermine efforts to keep drugs away from children.

“If we as a member of this committee pass a bill decriminalizing a certain drug for whatever purpose, I think that sends a terrible message for the children,” Pratt said.

John Mruzik, a family physician from Columbia, said the 1999 Institute of Medicine Report had recommended the immediate clinical trial of marijuana for a variety of illness.

“This is the same opinion that is shared by the American Medical Association,” Mruzik said.

He added that medical marijuana should not be a problem for law enforcement, citing evidence from states that have legalized its medical use.

Viets said it gives voters a chance to decide the issue.

“It is a referendum bill. It does not change the law but puts it up on the ballot in November for the citizens to decide,” Viets said.

But the bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. Vicky Riback Wilson, D-Columbia, said she doubts the committee will approve the legislation.

“In an election year particularly, legislators are afraid that people will see them as either soft on crime or soft on drugs,” Wilson said. “So they are less likely to listen to the reasonable arguments about alleviating pain.”

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