Pubdate: Wed, 18 Feb 2009
Source: Riverfront Times (MO)
Copyright: 2009 New Times, Inc.
Author: Keegan Hamilton
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Cliff Village, a tiny suburb of Joplin, has become the  second
Missouri city to legalize marijuana for medical  use. Residents can
pack their pipes with impunity, so  long as their pot comes with a
doctor's prescription.

But with a population in the double-digits and a local  sheriff who
vows to lock up any pot smoker he can find,  the town's 30-year-old
mayor, Joe Blundell, concedes  that the move is "symbolism, pure and

"I'd like to go and testify to legislators about this  plant," says
Blundell, who is wheelchair-bound, the  result of a train accident in
2000. "I'd tell them I'm  not a criminal, that I'm in a horrific
amount of pain  and I'd rather take something natural and holistic
rather than something being pushed by Pfizer."

A handful of state lawmakers and pro-grass activists  hope the actions
taken by this southwest Missouri  hamlet will help blaze a path for
the statewide passage  of a long-stymied medical-marijuana law.

"They've really taken the issue by the horns," says Dan  Viets,
coordinator of the state's chapter of the  National Organization for
the Reform of Marijuana Laws  (NORML). "Perhaps lawmakers will realize
that even  rural communities have embraced cannabis as a  legitimate
form of treatment."

Cliff Village, which passed the ordinance February 1,  modeled the
legislation after a bill introduced in the  state House of
Representatives that would allow anyone  with a doctor's OK to grow up
to seven plants and  possess an ounce of marijuana.

"I just don't see any reason why something that can be  regulated by a
doctor and can help people with their  illnesses should be
prohibited," argues Rep. Regina  Walsh, a St. Louis Democrat who
cosponsored the bill  introduced last month. "I just don't see any
reason why  we can't alleviate their pain, especially if it's for
something like cancer or some horrific illness."

If history is any gauge, however, it may be quite  awhile before the
state's sick citizens can legally  fire up a joint. The latest
proposal in the decades-old  debate is identical to ones that have
stalled in the  state legislature the past two years.

"There's a stigma involved in this," says Rep. Kate  Meiners, the
Kansas City Democrat who introduced the  bill. "When you envision
someone smoking medicinal  marijuana, what you see is a long-haired
hippie. You  don't see the little old lady with glaucoma."

Previous measures failed when former House Speaker Rod  Jetton waited
until the waning days of the legislative  session to assign the bills
to the Health and Human  Services Committee, virtually guaranteeing
that the  measures would never come to a floor vote. It appears
likely the new Speaker, Ron Richard, will continue  using his
predecessor's makeshift pocket veto.

"We don't have any plans to assign the bill to a  committee," says
Richard's spokeswoman Kristen  Blanchard. "The Speaker and the caucus
have priorities  that have to do with our family-recovery plan and
helping Missouri families who are out of jobs and that  sort of thing."

Richard is the former mayor of Joplin, an unexpected  hotbed in the
statewide fight for medical marijuana. In  addition to the rogue
suburb of Cliff Village, a recent  ballot initiative spearheaded by
the Joplin NORML  chapter received signatures from nearly 15 percent
of  the city's registered voters.

"He's a local business owner here in Joplin," the  city's NORML
president Kelly Maddy says of Richard. "He  owns bowling alleys with
bars in them, so he's no  stranger to recreational substances. He
knows it's a  viable topic in this town. He seems reasonable and
open-minded, but obviously he's kind of shying away  from the issue
the same way Jetton did."

When it comes to prescription pot, Columbia is the most  progressive
city in the state. The college town became  the first and only
Missouri city (prior to Cliff  Village) to enact its own
medical-marijuana ordinance  in 2004.

For the most part, however, medical-marijuana lobbyists  have found
the grass to be greener in other states. In  November, Michigan became
the first state in the  Midwest to permit doctor-approved dope,
joining  thirteen others nationwide.

Because state- and city-level measures are at odds with  federal
regulations, the Drug Enforcement  Administration has at times raided
marijuana  dispensaries and arrested patients in other states.  After
a new round of raids in California, a spokesman  for President Barack
Obama said "federal resources  should not be used to circumvent state

Missouri lawmakers modeled their bill after Hawaii's
medical-marijuana law, enacted in 2000. The amount of  the drug that
people would be permitted to possess is  relatively small compared to
other states. Washington  allows its residents to keep up to 24 ounces
of pot at  a time - a quantity patients there argue is too little,
and law enforcement contends is too much.

Opponents of medical marijuana assert that letting  doctors regulate
the reefer will only make the drug  more widely available for
recreational use and abuse.

"I already see a lot of abuse of legal prescription  drugs out there,"
Newton County Sheriff Ken Copeland  says of Cliff Village's law: "I
just see this as  another way to misuse drugs."

Counters Viets: "These guys aren't going to risk their  medical license just
to give someone a joint. Nobody  said it will be kosher to give out pot to
anyone who  wants it."

The Missouri State Medical Association, like its national counterpart,
the American Medical Association, refuses to take a formal policy
stance on medical marijuana. In recent years, though, the drug has
been used to treat the symptoms of an increasingly broad array of illnesses.

St. Louis resident Mark Pedersen suffers seizures and severe migraines
from the muscle-and-tissue disease fibromyalgia. He says he tried
several high-powered prescription drugs for years but only found
relief in marijuana. In 2005 he established the Cannabis Patient
Network and began traveling the country, lobbying lawmakers and
interviewing others who use marijuana medicinally.

"We're talking tens of thousands of people in Missouri who could be
medical-cannabis patients, without a doubt," says Pedersen. "Illnesses
like fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's disease,
Parkinson's - the list of people who could benefit from the use of
cannabis is very lengthy."

A newer convert is recently elected state representative Mike Colona,
a Democrat who represents the city's Tower Grove neighborhood. Colona
says he agreed to cosponsor the latest bill because of his experience
as a board member for the Saint Louis Effort for AIDS.

"I spoke to several doctors who treat AIDS patients, and it was their
opinion, overwhelmingly, that the ability to prescribe marijuana would
be very beneficial," Colona says.

"We trust our physicians to prescribe narcotics that are much more
powerful than marijuana for their patients - OxyContin, Percocet,
Vicodin - that kind of thing. If we're trusting doctors to do the
right thing with potent drugs like that, I think we can afford the
medical community the courtesy to treat this drug the same way."
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin