WHAT OTHERS SAY: Hemp-oil bill should open larger discussion about legalizing pot

Thursday, July 17, 2014 | 2:26 p.m. CDT

A week ago, the state of Washington joined Colorado as the only two states in the country where purchase of recreational marijuana is legal.

Just a few days after that first bag of weed was sold in Spokane, Gov. Jay Nixon signed a bill that could put Missouri on a similar path.

On Monday, Mr. Nixon, a Democrat, signed House Bill 2238, which allows the use of a hemp-oil extract to be used to treat certain forms of epilepsy. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Caleb Jones, R-California, and carried in the Senate by Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Lawmakers were moved by the stories of children whose parents decided to move to Colorado, where they could legally get the medicine that has proven to ease epileptic seizures in some cases.

A careful reading of the bill shows that it sets up the regulatory framework for dealing with medicinal marijuana, now legal in 23 states. The Department of Health and Senior Services will be required to set up rules for the growing and distribution of the hemp byproduct, and defining “cannabidiol oil care centers” and “cultivation and production facilities.”

Lawmakers, particularly social conservatives, were careful to brush off any talk of medicinal marijuana or full-fledged legalization during debate of the legislation. But it’s no stretch to see libertarian-minded Republicans as well as liberal Democrats arguing that approving one form of medicinal marijuana while denying access to so many other people who could benefit, such as senior citizens and cancer patients, is poor public policy.

Eventually, the business and agricultural communities in Missouri may come to remember that in the 1800s, the Show-Me State was one of the top hemp producers in the country. There is a cash crop awaiting a state that needs the revenue and is always searching for ways to expand its agricultural base.

The hemp-oil bill will help dozens, maybe hundreds, of children who need comfort from debilitating seizures. That’s a good thing. But it also has the potential to lay the groundwork for an agricultural and economic revival in Missouri based on the libertarian principles to which so many of today’s Missouri Republicans claim to subscribe.

Let’s have that conversation and like the Busch clan of the early 20th century, be ready to claim the economic spoils of the post-Prohibition era.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.

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