Marijuana flower at The Health Center, a medical cannabis and recreational marijuana dispensary in Denver. (Vince Chandler, The Denver Post)

Up in smoke: For a second time, Missouri lawmakers reject medical marijuana

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A proposal to legalize medical marijuana was quashed Wednesday in the Missouri House, marking the second time this year it has been defeated by lawmakers.

Supporters of the measure had portrayed it as a more restrained approach than a proposed constitutional amendment being pursued as an initiative petition for the November ballot.

The legislation would have allowed doctors to recommend marijuana for patients suffering from debilitating illnesses, such as AIDS or epilepsy. The proposal also would have created a licensing regime for commercial marijuana growers and retailers, along with a system to track the drug from seed to sale.

It was defeated by a 85-71 vote. House lawmakers killed a similar measure in April after scaling it back to only cover hospice patients.

If the House had passed the measure, it still would have needed Senate approval by Friday, the Legislature’s deadline to pass bills. It then would have gone on the August ballot.

Some supporters had touted the medical benefits of marijuana while others had argued that lawmakers should set guidelines for its use instead deferring to the citizens’ initiative process.

“We are not in this to create tax revenue. We are not in this to let people get high. We are in this to help really, really sick people,” said Rep. Jack Bondon, a Republican from Belton who supported the proposal.

But Rep. Eric Burlison, a Republican from Springfield, said marijuana doesn’t have the safeguards that come with true medicines, such as rigorous lab testing and consistent dosages.

On Sunday, a group supporting a medical marijuana initiative said it submitted nearly 275,000 petition signatures to the secretary of state’s office in a quest to get the measure on the November ballot. The office has until August to determine whether it qualified.

The initiative would direct the state Department of Health and Senior Services to set up a licensing program and fees for marijuana growers, manufacturers and retailers. People also could grow up to six plants for their personal medicinal use. Patients approved to use medical marijuana by physicians would need to get a $25 state identification card. The measure would impose a 4 percent sales tax on medical marijuana sales, with any proceeds not needed for administrative expenses to go to the Missouri Veterans Commission.

Some lawmakers said that passing their own bill would give them more control over the regulations.

“You could let the out-of-state interests come in, put this on the ballot, and do it their way. Or we could do it our way — cautiously, slowly, conservatively — so that we can fix it next year if we run into any hiccups,” said Rep. Mike Colona, a Democrat from St. Louis.

But Rep. Nick King said it didn’t matter whether lawmakers passed a statutory measure, because a constitutional amendment would override it.