Column: Missouri needs medical marijuana now more than ever

With three medical marijuana initiatives on the Nov. 6 ballot, Missouri could go a long way in treating illness and the opioid crisis.

Bryce Kolk is a freshman journalism major at MU. He is an opinion columnist who writes about politics for The Maneater.

Marijuana is legal for medicinal purposes in 31 states, as well Washington DC, Guam and Puerto Rico. Missouri will vote on three initiatives that would make it the 32nd state to legalize medical marijuana. Marijuana is a safe pain-relieving alternative to opiates in many cases and, with the opioid epidemic worsening, it is critical that we legalize it.

The three initiatives differ in scope and cost.

Amendment 2 would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for one of 10 conditions, such as cancer, epilepsy, post traumatic stress disorder and Parkinson’s. It is the only initiative that would allow patients to grow their own plants and would impose a four percent tax on marijuana sales.

Amendment 3 would, along with legalizing medical marijuana, create a board focused on “developing cures and treatments for cancer and other incurable diseases or medical conditions.” It would also impose a 15 percent sales tax on marijuana.

Proposition C would be the least expensive option and would impose a small two percent tax on marijuana sales and would create a new law, rather than a constitutional amendment. Because of this, legislatures could change parts, for better or worse.

Important to note is when two or more conflicting statutes are approved by voters, the one with the highest vote share prevails. While you may have reservations about any one of the proposals, splitting the vote three ways could be disastrous if none secure a majority. The passage of any of the three initiatives would be a step forward for Missouri.

So, why do we even need medical marijuana?

Opioid abuse is at a crisis level across America and Missouri is no different. Missouri had the 19th highest rate of opioid related deaths in 2016. For every 100,000 Missourians, 15.9 died from opioid overdose in just one year. One in every 65 deaths in Missouri in 2017 was from an opioid overdose, as a historic 951 Missourians died.

The opioid epidemic is worsening every year.

Enter marijuana.

With a worsening opioid epidemic, marijuana can provide an alternative. Marijuana has little to no risk when compared to a substance like opium, according to the National Institute of Health.

Doctors have been ready to supply a stream of opioids to users, often pushed by profit-seeking pharmaceutical companies, but marijuana has been too taboo to even consider.

Now, the era of reefer madness is ending for the better.

Still, regardless of legalization of marijuana at the state level, the federal government needs to wake up to reality. Marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), putting it on par with hard drugs like heroin and ecstacy.

To put marijuana and heroin in the same classification belittles victims of addiction, as well as their families. Conflating the two substances is beyond unreasonable. Marijuana can be a solution for those suffering from addiction.

While marijuana dependency certainly exists, addiction is rare and compared to the beast of opioid addiction, is much less dangerous. The CDC makes it clear; no human in recorded history has ever died from a marijuana overdose.

Even more trivial is the classification of drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil as Schedule II. Fentanyl and carfentanil are both opioids, like heroin, but in more condensed forms. Carfentanil, an elephant tranquilizer is 5000 times as potent as heroin, but is considered less dangerous than both heroin and marijuana.

Fentanyl and carfentanil are seeing increased abuse as the epidemic rages, killing many.

The Schedule I classification of marijuana also has implications for research.

As a Schedule I drug, researchers need a licence to study its medical value. This has stunted our understanding of marijuana’s positive properties. While the DEA has agreed, reluctantly, to support additional research, the agency has done more harm than good.

In a 2017 study by the National Institute of Health, 97 percent of medical marijuana users say they “strongly agreed/agreed” that they were able to decrease the amount of opiates they use while using prescribed marijuana.

Marijuana has also been found to have benefits that extend beyond pain relief, being used to treat a range of ailments such as cancer, eating disorders, multiple sclerosis as well as many others.

As the stigma against it has started to wane, the medical applications of marijuana are just starting to come to light. Legalizing marijuana for medical use is needed now more than ever.

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