The recently concluded 2020 Missouri legislative session was a historic one, with lawmakers forced to stay home for six weeks because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Looking back at a truncated session marked as much by what didn’t get decided as by what did, it’s worth highlighting several important measures that will further protect the health and safety of Missouri medical cannabis patients — and the defeat of some ill-advised efforts by lawmakers to roll back the intent and impact of a state constitutional amendment approved by nearly two-thirds of voters since November 2018.
One such measure would have prevented me and other state-certified physicians from certifying medical marijuana patients using telemedicine services. Such a move would unfairly harm patients in rural areas whose doctors may be miles away as well as those with debilitating conditions that limit, if not prevent, their ability to leave home.
The limitations of that proposed barrier to care became even more apparent during the pandemic, when virtual visits with doctors emerged as a safe, socially distant alternative to in-person visits for routine care.
Instead, lawmakers added a clause to the state’s telehealth statute that specifically authorizes physician certifications of medical cannabis patients, enabling doctors to virtually interview patients, collect or review medical history and perform examinations.
Another bill that initially called for severe restrictions on the sale of edible infused marijuana products was modified to both protect the rights of patients for whom this is a safer, more desirable consumption method than smoking as well as keep controlled substances out of the hands of minors.
The compromise language prohibits the sale of marijuana edibles shaped like animals, fruit or cartoon characters while also clarifying how such products are packaged and labeled.
Yet another wrongheaded legislative proposal would have allowed employers to fire medical marijuana patients solely for having state certification or for failing a drug test, even if the patient wasn’t impaired at work.
Problem is, Missouri law already prohibits the use of marijuana in public places or at places of business. This discriminatory measure was also defeated.
Beyond fighting back against these attempted legislative “remedies,” the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association (MoCannTrade), for which I serve as a board member, also works to continually make sure the state’s administrative rules have the best interests of patients and caregivers at heart.
Working with my colleague Dr. Lisa Roark, a Cassville physician, MoCannTrade sought and received clarification from the state Department of Health and Senior Services on the patient license renewal process.
As a result, DHSS streamlined its renewal system to ensure that license renewals, which are required annually, align with actual expiration dates rather than the date when such renewals are first sought.
MoCannTrade also worked to amend the state’s physician certification form to narrow the requirement that doctors specify a suggested cannabis dosing amount — a provision that limited physician participation in the program.
It’s been under a year since the state began accepting medical marijuana patient and caregiver applications, and in the program’s first year, nearly 56,000 Missourians were approved — a testament to the high level of public interest and support for safe, compliant use of medical marijuana in Missouri.
Dr. Mimi Vo is a board-certified internist and board member of the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association and the Society of Cannabis Clinicians. She lives in Olivette.