COLUMBIA — The 2009 Missouri Drug Policy Reform Conference took place at MU this weekend, attracting those from Columbia and surrounding areas who hope that laws regarding the criminalization of drugs, particularly marijuana, will soon be changed.
"It really would be a different world if it were legal," said one of the speakers, Fredric Raines, an economics professor at Washington University who pointed out the economic benefits of the legalization of medical marijuana.
Every year, a Missouri Drug Policy Reform Conference is held somewhere in the state to raise awareness about drug policy reform and to give those working for change a chance to organize.
"The purpose is to get people together to realize that they're not alone in advocating theses changes," said Amber Langston, outreach director for the eastern region of Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
MU chapters of Students for Sensible Drug Policy and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws hosted the conference this year.
A variety of individuals attended the conference, including students and working professionals. Among the attendees was the chairman of the Missouri Libertarian Party, Glenn Nielsen.
Nielsen explained that he became a Libertarian because of an experience related to the prohibition of drugs.
While returning to Missouri from Texas, Nielsen was stopped twice in what he termed "a drug profile stop." He was not issued any citations, but it was then that he realized drug prohibition was not the way to go.
"The Libertarians were right about infringements on civil liberties," Nielsen said.
While the conference focused on many aspects of drug policy reform, one topic that continued to surface was medical marijuana as it is used to treat a variety of chronic conditions including epilepsy, glaucoma, migraines and cancer. During several breakout sessions, patients were able to discuss their experiences.
The use of medical marijuana is not legal in most of Missouri. However, it is legal in Columbia.
But that doesn't stop those with a prescription from facing consequences, as one user, Christy Welliver, explained.
Welliver, a multiple sclerosis patient, calls her prescription a "get out of jail free card," but that term is not entirely true. She is not legally allowed to buy marijuana or grow it herself. If she were caught by a police officer who chose not to look the other way, she could face legal trouble.
So for now, Welliver smokes marijuana in her home before bed, which helps her sleep because it controls her muscle spasms.
"Hopefully, you're safe in your own home," she said.
Joe Blundell, the mayor of Cliff Village, is another patient who uses medical marijuana.
Blundell was caught under and dragged by a train, an accident that has confined him to a wheelchair. While telling his story, he recalled what the doctor said to him when he first woke up in the hospital.
"The doctor told me, 'God has some sort of special purpose for you,'" Blundell said.
Since the accident, Blundell has taken countless pharmaceutical drugs, which he feels have done him more harm than good. He feels the chemicals in narcotics and opiates are more harmful than those found in marijuana.
As mayor, Blundell already has helped Cliff Village legalize the medical use of marijuana. He explained there is a 78 percent majority in the United States that want to legalize medical marijuana.
"How is a 78 percent majority not getting heard?" he asked.
Mark Pedersen, a patient and an activist for the legalization of medical marijuana, explained that using marijuana helps him with migraines and pain from fibromyalgia.
Pedersen has conducted interviews with many other patients who have seen success from the use of medical marijuana. He explained that he had spoken to those who were able to cut their use of narcotic drugs when they used marijuana. One woman Pedersen interviewed claimed her brain tumor stopped growing during her use, which was cut short because of intervention by law enforcement.
"It's not a free country ... we gotta stand up against this," Pedersen urged those attending the conference, as well as fellow patients.
"All we want to be is close to normal."
Those wishing to find out more about Pedersen's work can visit his Web site at cannabispatientnet.wordpress.com.