After doing over two decades in federal prison for selling marijuana and LSD, I was stoked as fuck to be returning to a marijuana-friendly world when I was released in 2015.
Weed was already legal medically in dozens of states and recreationally in a handful. There were also lots of studies being done into the therapeutic value of LSD. This reinforced my belief that breaking a law I thought was wrong was justified.
I grew up in the 1980s, smack-dab in the middle of the “Just Say No” / “This-is-your-brain-on-drugs” era. Marijuana was widely considered an evil “gateway drug” to heroin, cocaine, or meth. Ever since that’s been proven untrue, I’ve felt a profound sense of justification, as the drug-war mentality has increasingly unraveled.
The only thing that sucked on my release was that I was in Missouri—St. Louis, to be exact—and they didn’t have any kind of recreational or medical program enacted. In fact, they hadn’t even decriminalized yet.
I didn’t have to worry about it while I was on probation. I didn’t want to catch a dirty urine and get sent back to prison. But I had to watch my ex-con friends from California and Washington, DC get out, get medical marijuana cards, and smoke weed even while they were on federal probation.
When I finally got off probation in 2016, I couldn’t wait to smoke the strains I’d been window-shopping on the internet—like Sour Diesel, OG Kush, or Girl Scout Cookies. But in Missouri it was still hard to get good weed. Even when I could find some, it was expensive and I always felt like I was getting ripped off.
[An illegal grow in Missouri. Credit: Seth Ferranti]
But in the last three years I’ve seen marijuana make real inroads in the “Show-Me” state. Possession of up to 35 grams is now only punishable by a ticket. In big cities like St. Louis, prosecutors are turning away cases of 100 grams and under if there are no aggravating circumstances.
It seemed like a medical marijuana initiative would be on the ballot in 2017, but the organization that was gathering signatures to get it on the ballot fell a couple of thousand short in my congressional area, with authorities invalidating over 10,000 signatures.
Only in Missouri, I thought.
But Missouri is now poised to move into the modern world. We have not just one, but three medical marijuana initiatives on the November 6 ballot. Kinda confusing. Couldn’t all of us weed-lovers in Missouri get together, stand united and support the same thing?
To untangle this and get a sense of local feelings about the vote, I spoke with some of my fellow Missourians.
“If it was legalized, my mother’s last days would have been more comfortable.”
“I’m absolutely for it of course,” says Marnee Martin, a receptionist in St. Louis. And she has good reason. “Nineteen years ago my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Back then, the anti-nausea drugs were so expensive that she declined use after chemo sessions. She really suffered.”
“Her doctor recommended marijuana even though it was illegal,” she continues. “Due to that fact and the stigma behind it, my mom decided not to use marijuana—even though I could have got it for her for free. If it was legalized, my mother’s last days would have been more comfortable.”
Patients up and down the country, as well as medical professionals, know that cannabis can help a lot of folks with a wide range of medical conditions. Thirty states and counting also acknowledge this.
But how best to join them? The consensus in my short, unscientific survey seems to be that Amendment 2 is the best of the three measures available to Missourians.
“Amendment 2 seems to be the obvious choice for Missouri,” says Levi Barnes, a video producer who works in Columbia. “Unlike [alternative option] Prop C, it is an amendment to the Missouri constitution—making it harder to overturn in the future. And since this is Missouri, we will certainly have lawmakers who will try to overturn any movement to embrace marijuana.”
His knowledge of the measures is impressive. “While Amendment 3 is also a constitutional amendment, it’s less patient-focused and allows one man to determine who can sell, who can provide, and what conditions it can be used for. And those variables are dependent on the research of his own team, and no-one else.”
Thanks to long-time government blocking of research, patients have already acted for—and discovered the benefits for—themselves. access has to be the priority.
This sounds like some kind of Missouri “Weed Czar” calling all the shots. Amendment 3 also calls for spending “tax revenue on a Biomedical Research and Drug Development Institute.” Research is obviously important and must be further pursued, but it’s also true that thanks to long-time government blocking of research, patients have already acted for—and discovered the benefits for—themselves. Access has to be the priority.
“Amendment 3 would only slow the process of getting this drug into the hands of people who need it now,” Barnes argues. “Amendment 2 would be regulated by the Department of Health and Senior Services, and is the quickest and most effective option for making the drug available for a wide variety of conditions.”
Dave Bour, director of brand management at Greene Fox, a St. Louis-based cannabis retail management company, agrees that Amendment 2 is the best way to get this medicine into the hands of Missouri patients. The state health department would maintain oversight from seed to sale, he says, helping to ensure quality and best practices for retail operations. Physicians would have the power to prescribe cannabis to patients who meet one of the qualifying conditions established by the state. And tax revenues would go towards providing veterans with healthcare coverage.
“We’ve got high hopes that Missouri residents are ready to take this step forward,” says Bour. “There’s an opportunity to bring millions of dollars into our city through the legalization of medical cannabis. Areas like the [St. Louis] north side could really benefit from this new economy. It just comes down to taking the right approach, and educating the public accordingly.”
With the ongoing Green Rush, and news that major corporations are getting into the game, money is always a consideration.
“I believe all forms of marijuana legalization is good business for any state,” says Judy Edwards, an IT specialist in St. Louis. “Medical marijuana legalization is the gateway that ultimately leads to recreational use legalization, and the first Midwestern state that legalizes recreational marijuana can resolve their financial issues through the collection of tax.”
But it’s also about much more than that.
“I believe that with more harm caused by the failed War on Drugs and the ridiculous incarceration of folks possessing or using marijuana,” she continues, preaching to the choir, “legalization is in the best interest of all states and all people.”
Sounds awesome to me. I just want to get my medical marijuana card. I did 21 years of prison time and suffer from a little PTSD. I don’t think any doctor would begrudge me the right to toke up and free my mind from the rigors of life sometimes.
While so many people assume that weed is legally no biggie anymore, it’s still a federal offense, and large numbers of people are still being arrested for this. In 2018.
I think I’m sold on Amendment 2. While none of the three options go far enough, to full legalization, it would be a clear step in the right direction and a big move for Missouri. It would also give licensed patients the option to grow their own cannabis at home—I would love to grow weed in my house legally.
I’m also just hoping that once it’s voted in, it won’t take forever to implement. I’ve been to California and Denver and the weed there is so good compared to the swag I smoke here.
It’s been far too long that patients have suffered because of outdated stigma placed on a life-changing plant. Missourians need marijuana as an effective, low-risk alternative to some other, riskier substances. The pharmaceutical drug lords fight legalization to protect their profits. But people, and what they choose for themselves, are what matters.
We have a long way to go, but I’m excited. Because for a while after I got out, it didn’t seem like progress would ever happen in Missouri.
The top image shows the author visiting a dispensary in Denver. Credit: Seth Ferranti