Whether you call it Mary Jane, reefer, grass, or pot, marijuana is now legally called medicine in the state of Missouri. Since its legalization, more than thirty thousand Missourians have been approved for their medical card.
Misty is one of them. In October 2016, Misty, who has asked to be identified by her first name only, was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer. She immediately thought of her three daughters, who were fourteen, ten, and four at the time, then she started thinking about marijuana. Misty had never used it before, but now she thought perhaps it could help. When she began her double mastectomy in December 2016, she found out the cancer had grown. It went from Stage 1 to Stage 4 metastatic in just six months. She was thirty-nine years old.
In February 2017, she took her first trip to Colorado where marijuana has been legal for recreational use since 2012. She came home with $500 worth of what she considers life-saving medicine. She’s been making the trip every three months since. She’s terrified when she returns, crossing the border into Kansas and then Missouri, but she hasn’t stopped going.
“You’re fully motivated because you’re doing this to save your own life and you know it’s working, but if you were to get pulled over by a state trooper in a different state where it’s not legal or where my medical card is not recognized, it is still deemed a Schedule 1 drug and could have severe consequences to my future,” Misty says.
Misty has hormone-positive breast cancer, meaning either estrogen or progesterone, naturally occurring female hormones, fuel the cancer’s growth. Misty learned that this kind of cancer doesn’t respond to high amounts of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects, as well as other cancers do. Instead, she uses low doses of THC and high doses of CBD (cannabidiol), an active ingredient derived from cannabis plants that is less than 0.3 percent THC and provides medicinal effects without the high.
Since combining the medicine prescribed by her doctors with CBD and THC, Misty has found new hope and urges other cancer patients to do their research as well. Her blood work is normal, she’s back to work, and her bone lesions have not grown.
She is now a medical marijuana cardholder in Missouri and also has her home cultivation license.
In 2018, she worked with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and helped collect signatures to ensure medical marijuana made it on the ballot in Missouri. She fully supported Amendment 2, which legalized marijuana for medical purposes, allows home growing, and taxes marijuana sales at 4 percent, with the tax revenue going toward healthcare services for veterans. It passed with more than 1.5 million votes on November 6, 2018.
DISPENSARIES TO COME
Since then, 192 dispensaries and 60 cultivation sites have been approved to operate across the state. More than 1,000 dispensaries and more than 500 cultivation facilities were denied.
BeLeaf Medical, a medical cannabis company, won ten licenses: five for dispensaries named Swade, three for cultivation companies named Sinse, and two for manufacturing sites named Phytos. Cultivation sites are where the plants are grown, whereas manufacturing sites are where the dried plant material can be turned into oils, topicals, and edibles.
Mitch Meyers, the CEO of BeLeaf Medical, has a background in the business. For the past four years, she has been in the CBD business in Missouri. In 2014, Missouri passed a bill that allowed patients with incurable epilepsy to use CBD to treat it. Then the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 removed hemp from Schedule 1 controlled substances. Countless shops across the state now sell CBD products. Mitch credits her team and its combined experience for the company’s successful applications.
“My cultivation partner had been in Colorado for ten years,” Mitch says. “He owned three cultivation and three dispensaries, and we both have some projects in California, so realistically we have a management team that has been in this space for at least ten years.”
Each dispensary will have a waiting area outside of the room that holds the THC products. Inside, multiple product specialists are able to answer questions and offer suggestions. Some dispensaries also call these employees budtenders.
Although medical marijuana legalization passed over a year ago and cards have been issued, dispensaries are not open to supply marijuana to patients. This has caused a gray area in the law and cardholders question if they are allowed to use marijuana yet. Public Information Officer Jeff Pitts says, “The Columbia Police Department recognizes that individuals who hold a valid medical marijuana identification card are currently authorized to possess and use medical marijuana, and the lack of a mechanism by which those individuals may legally come into possession of medical marijuana does not change their right to possess it.”
But each police department in the state has its own view on the subject.
According to the St. Louis County Police Department, it is “monitoring the changes relative to medical marijuana and is prepared to adapt enforcement procedures accordingly. However, we will continue enforcing applicable local, state, and federal laws, which regulate controlled substances, including marijuana.”
The BeLeaf Medical dispensaries are set to open in August 2020.
A VETERAN’S VOICE
Todd Scattini is proud to be an Army veteran. He’s equally proud of the medical marijuana card he carries every day. During his twenty-seven-year career in the military, Todd held many positions, but it was an assignment in 2011 that sparked a new passion: medical marijuana.
He was serving in Afghanistan when he was asked to brainstorm a new industry for the Afghans that used their natural resources. He suggested a hemp industry. His idea wasn’t used, but his research of hemp subsequently led to him learning about the medicinal side of marijuana.
In 2016, Todd began his last assignment in the military at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas and purchased a home in Platte City, Missouri that summer—twenty minutes from the military base—with hopes of assisting in the legalization of medical marijuana in Missouri.
“It was a major movement taking place, and I wanted to be part of it because as a leader in the military, if there’s something I see that has the potential to either increase the survivability of soldiers in combat or improve the life and the livelihood of veterans who have served, I felt like it was my duty to bring it to light and understand it as much as possible,” Todd says.
After retiring from the military in January 2018, he took his activism up a notch and became more outspoken and began speaking on the topic internationally.
“It’s the bravest thing I’ve ever done, including being in the military,” Todd says. “In order to push this forward, I have lost friends who don’t really want to associate with me because I use cannabis. I have put my entire reputation on the line. I have also limited myself from ever holding a federal position most likely. I’ve had a top secret, special compartmentalized information security clearance for over twenty years. I’ll never have one again because technically I’m a federal criminal. And I do it willingly, but again, I do it so that one day, other veterans can do it and not be ashamed of it.”
He works daily to make medical marijuana easily accessible for others, but he also uses it to control his own ailments.
“For me, it addresses chronic pain as well as inflammation,” Todd says. “I use a combination of CBD as well as THC products. It allows me to sleep at night. It has suppressed nightmares. It’s improved my relationship with my entire family. It’s made me a better father, husband, business leader, just generally a better person.”
The difficulty of the application process for cultivators and dispensaries inspired Todd’s new business, Harvest 360, a full-service consulting and management firm that helps people write applications for their cultivation license.
“What we focus on is veterans and social equity applicants, meaning African Americans, Hispanics, and communities that have been traditionally oppressed by the unequal application of cannabis prohibition laws,” Todd says.
When Todd began looking into the history of marijuana prohibition in the United States, he says he was shocked at what he found.
The prohibition of marijuana, which was initially spelled marihuana, began in the 1930s with the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. It regulated the importation, cultivation, possession, and distribution of marijuana. The act was overturned in 1969, but was quickly replaced by the Controlled Substances Act—a controversial drug policy—in 1970. At the time, the Schedule of Controlled Substances was also introduced with the Drug Enforcement Administration placing marijuana in the most restrictive class, Schedule 1—the same category as heroin.
When medical marijuana appeared on the ballot in 2018, the St. Louis Metropolitan Medical Society (SLMMS), the Missouri State Medical Association, and the Missouri Association of Osteopathic Physicians & Surgeons opposed all three proposals that were on the ballot.
In SLMMS’s statement regarding their opposition, marijuana’s classification is mentioned. SLMMS “opposes such measures until a) The US Drug Enforcement Administration reclassifies marijuana to allow for increased scientific research; b) Extensive research studies demonstrating health benefits have been completed; and c) Necessary changes are made to federal laws permitting the use of marijuana.”
Schedule 1 drugs are defined as having a high potential for abuse, have no medical use, and are under strict medical research restrictions. With medical marijuana now legal in thirty-three states and recreational use legal in eleven and Washington, DC, many argue it should be rescheduled to a less restrictive category.
A ROLE IN THE OPIOID CRISIS
In 2017, there were 952 overdose deaths involving opioids in Missouri, which is higher than the national rate. Opioids include heroin, fentanyl, and legal prescription pain relievers, such as morphine and Oxycontin—Schedule 2 drugs.
Now many are wondering if medical marijuana can help the opioid crisis in our state. Dr. Kathy Trumbull, an MD at Green Health Docs in Kansas City, believes so.
“A lot of people are turning to marijuana instead of even starting the opioids,” Dr. Trumbull says. “And that’s something that I am totally open to. I don’t feel like they have to have tried the opioids and failed them because this is a safer alternative.”
Dr. Trumbull has been with Green Health Docs since spring of 2019. She has been recommending medical marijuana to people for various reasons, including migraines, lack of appetite, and chronic pain. She’s practiced medicine for more than twenty years as an
obstetrician-gynecologist and reproductive endocrinologist until pain from her rheumatoid diseases caused her to look for an office job. While searching, she received an email about an available position at Green Health Docs.
“I didn’t know a lot about it, but I knew that with being a reproductive endocrinologist and doing state-of-the-art IVF, I was used to being kind of at the cusp of the newest stuff, and so it didn’t bother me to be doing something that might be a little controversial or very new for many doctors,” Dr. Trumbull says.
After conducting her own research, she decided the job was perfect for her.
According to two studies published in JAMA Internal Medicine, states that allow medical marijuana have a lower rate of opioid prescriptions.
“I’ve talked to many opioid addicts, and I ask them every time ‘Do you want to quit using this?’ and they all unanimously have said ‘Yes.’ ” Todd says. “They don’t want to be a slave to this drug.”
Missouri has a wide list of qualifying conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, Crohn’s disease, autism, and chronic pain. But what happens if your condition isn’t on the list?
In 2015, Geoffery Kohl, a chef in St. Louis, woke up in the emergency room. He had a grand mal seizure the night before for the first time in his life. He was thirty-five years old.
“They never found a definitive cause of my seizures,” Geoffery says. “I don’t have epilepsy. I had numerous sleep studies, MRIs, CT scans. I spent weeks in the hospital trying to figure out what was going on.”
In an attempt to control them, his doctors prescribed five different medications with one costing $1,200 a month after insurance. Nothing worked. “If they weren’t causing major mood disturbances and other neurological issues, they just weren’t working at all,” Geoffery says.
He decided to give marijuana a try, and he hasn’t had a seizure since. He’s now working and teaching classes at Elite Homegrowers Academy on how to cook with marijuana. He teaches people how to make cannabis butter, oils, and concentrates for infusing into food.
“There are a lot of people who don’t want to smoke or can’t smoke, but still want the medicinal effects,” Geoffery says. He plans to teach people how to cook with marijuana as an alternative to smoking, which can also be less expensive.
Although marijuana is still a divisive topic, people like Misty, Todd, Dr. Trumbull, and Geoffery are paving the way in hope of making marijuana be seen as a medicine, rather than a drug, for future generations. Medical marijuana may not be for everyone, but they believe it is a life-changing medicine that is possibly the answer many people—
including cancer patients, some veterans, and people with medical conditions the doctors can’t quite figure out—are looking for.
While marijuana is still federally illegal, many states, including Illinois, have legalized medical marijuana first, then shortly after, legalized recreational use. Will Missouri follow the trend? We may find out sooner rather than later. Missourians for a New Approach—an organization with many of the same people and groups who supported Amendment 2 in 2018—are now working to get recreational use on the November 2020 ballot.
If this initiative makes it on the ballot and passes, Missourians who are twenty-one years or older will be able to possess marijuana. Retail sales will be taxed at 15 percent with the funds split between veterans services, Missouri roads and bridges, and drug addiction treatment, and Missourians with marijuana-related offenses will have the chance to expunge their criminal record. Local communities will also be able to opt out of allowing retail recreational marijuana sales if they vote to do so.
A total of 160,199 verified signatures are needed in order to make it on the ballot. The group is currently collecting the signatures and will find out on May 3 if they have enough to get the amendment on the ballot.
How to Get a Medical Marijuana Card
To obtain a medical marijuana card, a patient needs to get a physician certification signed by a Missouri-licensed medical doctor that documents his or her medical condition. This can be done at medical offices like Green Health Docs. A patient should bring any relevant medical documents to an appointment to prove the medical condition. The physician certification proves that a doctor has recommended medical marijuana.
After receiving the signed physician’s certification, a patient must apply to the state health department for a card within thirty days of receiving the certification. A patient may begin the application process on the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services website, Health.MO.Gov/safety/medical-marijuana. Personal information, including name, social security number, and photo identification are required.
The patient or caregiver card fee is $25 annually. Physician certifications vary in price and have to be renewed annually. The fee for a home grower card is $100 annually.
Is medical marijuana safe?
BECAUSE MARIJUANA is federally prohibited and still a Schedule 1 drug in the United States, it has not been well researched here. This is why many medical organizations in Missouri have urged for it to be reclassified so further research can be conducted. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “The substantial layers of bureaucracy that emerge from cannabis’s Schedule 1 categorization is reported to have discouraged a number of cannabis researchers from applying for grant funding or pursuing additional research efforts.”
Harvard Health Publishing advises patients to be honest and open with their doctors if they are using marijuana and asks doctors to be nonjudgmental so they can strengthen the patient-doctor relationship and learn about marijuana.
Harvard Health Publishing also says, “Because cannabis smoke is known to cause airway inflammation, wheezing, and chest tightness, people with lung diseases should not smoke it. Other people who should just say no to marijuana include those who may be vulnerable to developing schizophrenia or addiction.”
The Mayo Clinic says further study is needed to answer the question of whether medical marijuana is safe, but that you may qualify for treatment with medical marijuana if you meet certain requirements and have a qualifying condition.
According to the The National Institute of Drug Abuse and the Mayo Clinic, possible side effects include:
- Altered senses (for example, seeing brighter colors)
- Changes in mood
- Impaired body movement
- Difficulty with thinking and problem-solving
- Impaired memory
- Adverse impact on the brain development of teenagers, including impaired thinking, memory, and learning functions
- Lung irritation from smoke
- Lower birth weight if used during pregnancy
- Increased heart rate
- Temporary paranoia
- Slower reaction times
- Increased risk of heart attack and stroke
- Increased appetite
- Potential for addiction
- Withdrawal symptoms
Photos // Shutterstock, Christopher Smith, Pixabay