JEFFERSON CITY — Jim Taber remembers when his son ate pancakes.
It was two days after he starting taking Marinol, a synthetic form of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. It was the first time his son had a serious appetite since his cancer diagnosis at age 9, and his subsequent addiction to opioids to deal with the pain.
Taber testified in favor of a proposal that would allow medical marijuana to be used to treat "irreversible debilitating diseases or conditions." It would give physicians more options in treating patients like his son.
The bill, proposed by Rep. Jim Neely, R-Cameron, mirrors another bill proposed this year by Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph. The bill would be an extension of current Missouri marijuana law, which allows hemp extract to be used to treat intractable epilepsy. An effort to expand use of medical marijuana failed last year in the House.
A major impediment to the measure is the drug’s federal legal status. Marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug under the Drug Enforcement Administration, the agency's most restrictive label reserved for drugs with no medical use.
Jason Grellner, the president of the Missouri Narcotics Officers Association, said one of the biggest problems in using medical marijuana is a doctor’s inability to fully prescribe it.
"No matter what we pass in the state of Missouri, if we pass anything at all, a doctor may not prescribe a Schedule 1 drug or they’re going to lose their DEA number and won’t be prescribing any controlled substances — Schedule 1 through 5 — anymore," he said.
Doctors may only "recommend" the drug to citizens of a medical marijuana state, but are not immune from legal ramifications if something were to happen to the patient, he said.
Grellner said that by bypassing FDA regulation of a drug, Missouri would be opening itself up to an unknown substance in regard to side effects and interactions with other prescription drugs on the market.
Without federal oversight, there is no control over consistency in drug quality, he said. For example, marijuana bought in Colorado is not guaranteed to be the same marijuana bought in Missouri.
The bill was supported by emotional testimony from Missouri residents. As they told their stories of dealing with life-altering diseases, some cried and some stayed stoic, but all demanded action.
Mike Sharp, the sheriff of Jackson County, choked up as he told the committee about his nephew whose autism causes him to physically harm himself.
"Current medicine that’s out there available for my nephew does not work," he said. "It doesn’t work. They seem to think that the medical cannabis will, and why in the name of God would you not want to help a child have one good day?"
Heidi Rayl broke down telling the story of her 7-year-old son, Zayden, whose health issues required him to take many more times the recommended dose of medication in order to deal with his seizures.
"A seizure that lasts over five minutes has a 20 percent higher chance of death. Zayden’s last for hours,” she said. “An adult dose of Valium is 5 milligrams. I give Zayden 60 before I call the paramedics."
Rayl said it was unfair that she did not have the right to choose medicine she feels would help Zayden overcome his seizures.
"If my son is having a deadly seizure, I should be able to give him one, two, three drops of pure THC to stop the seizure monster from attacking him, but instead I’m forced to pump him full of dangerous Valium," she said.
The committee took testimony Wednesday but did not vote.
Supervising editor is Mark Horvit.