The pros and cons of a budding industry.

In November 2018, Missourians voted in favor of Constitutional Amendment 2, legalizing the medicinal marijuana use in our state. Approved by more than 65% of votes, the measure also contained the Veteran’s Service Program, which will be funded by the taxes placed on medical marijuana.

Missouri is now 1 of 39 states to legalize marijuana for medical use. Those in favor of medical marijuana argue it can be used to treat a variety of ailments, such as symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease, arthritis, cancer treatments, Multiple Sclerosis, diabetes, and more. There is also a benefit of increased tax revenue, which would otherwise be lost in illegal sales of the drug, including the additional programs built in for veterans services.

Adult male cannabis farmer harvesting his marajuana plants using shears

One of the main arguments against medical marijuana is that its efficacy is still unproven. While it is purported to relieve symptoms, there is still very little scientific data to back up these claims and prescription drugs are often believed to relieve these symptoms more effectively than marijuana.

Furthermore, it is feared that medical marijuana is simply a precursor to the legalization of recreational marijuana and will bring a host of social problems associated with use of the drug. Another looming threat is potential federal intervention as marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

During the law’s first full year, medical marijuana sales eclipsed $200 million, which translated to more than $6 million for Missouri veterans services. Furthermore, the state has licensed more than 180 dispensaries, 64 manufacturing facilities, and 46 cultivators to produce and distribute medical marijuana. More than 6,500 people have been licensed to work in the marijuana industry, with almost 1 out of every 10 new jobs created last year attributed to cannabis workers.

However, as predicted, medicinal marijuana’s approval has been followed by a push to legalize recreational use as well. An effort has been going on to gather signatures for an initiative petition and a joint resolution filed by the state House of Representatives to legalize recreational marijuana.

Marijuana legalization brings with it serious considerations about the societal cost. Studies by the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice show that since the state legalized marijuana in 2013, hospitalizations related to
marijuana triple, and the drug’s use among adults has increase from 13.5% to 19%.

Additionally, marijuana-related incidents of driving under the influence in Colorado increased 120% from 2014 to 2020. There is also currently no way to quickly test for marijuana intoxication, adding difficulty to the investigation and prosecution of those who drive while high.

The economic impacts of legalizing marijuana for medical use have so far been positive. Unfortunately, the social effects are as yet unknown. However, considering the experience in Colorado, it seems likely that if we legalize recreational marijuana, we could see a pronounced increase in hospitalizations and impaired driving cases involving the drug, along with other as-yet-to-be-determined effects.

I think all these things should be weighed as Missourians consider whether to curtail or expand the legalization of marijuana in this state.

Senator Mike Bernskoetter took office in 2019, serving the 6th Senatorial District, and also serves as a lector and Eucharistic and hospitality minister at Immaculate Conception Parish.