Missouri medical marijuana activists aim for 2018

6 months 1 day 16 hours ago December 21, 2016 Dec 21, 2016 Wednesday, December 21 2016 Wednesday, December 21, 2016 7:01:59 PM CST in News
By: Matt Vereen, KOMU 8 Reporter

COLUMBIA - In September of 2016, a petition to get medical marijuana on the November ballot met its end.

Activist groups are required to get a certain number of signatures on a petition from each congressional district. The 2016 petition failed to reach the required number in the St. Louis area.

Based on a court ruling, Missouri's secretary of state rejected the petition for lacking around 2,000 signatures.

Now the same groups that worked on the 2016 petition are picking up the pieces of the failure and looking ahead to the ballot in two years. One leader in this movement, Sheila Dundon, is at the head of starting the process back up.

Dundon works with groups like “New Approach Missouri,” “Show-Me Cannabis” and the “National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws” (NORML) to convince the public to sign petitions and support their passage.

“At this point we have already filed a petition with the secretary of state to put it on the November 2018 ballot,” Dundon said.

This puts the petition far ahead of where the 2016 movement was, especially since the ballot wording does not need to be debated and negotiated again. Instead, groups are gearing up to get right back on the streets to get signatures.

Dundon said activist groups in Missouri have already surveyed the state and feel very confident they have the support needed to pass the measure.

For her, accomplishing this feat goes far beyond her job description.

Dundon was diagnosed with cancer back in 2006.

She experienced extreme nausea, loss of mental clarity and suicidal thoughts while undergoing treatment. The psychotics meant to help her during the process only seemed to increase these side effects.

After voicing concerns, she was sent to a psychiatrist who put her on even more pharmaceuticals that made her feel worse.

From her time working for the American Cancer Society, Dundon remembered many patients had used medical marijuana to help deal with the negative results of chemotherapy.

“When I finally got off the drugs and started using marijuana my head cleared up. It was the difference between night and day,” Dundon said.

The change was enough to rejuvenate Dundon in her fight. She’s now been cancer free for more than five years.

In that time, she has significantly stepped up her fight to get other patients the same option she got. The rest of the country has been doing the same.

After the 2016 voting cycle, there are now more states with legal medical marijuana than without. Florida, North Dakota and Arkansas approved measures, putting Missouri in the minority with 22 other states.

There are many cases against medical marijuana; the largest argument is the lack of scientific research. Marijuana has many unknowns.

In early November, KOMU spoke with Joy Sweeney of the Council for Drug Free Youth. Sweeney said she believes increased access through legalization leads to more youth use, harming what she calls the "most vulnerable population."

"We have a scientific process for approval of medicine in this country and it doesn't involve voting. No other medicine is voted on," Sweeney said.

That said, its use goes well back into human history and activist groups fear their biggest roadblock is the negative media image marijuana has acquired. Aaron Ladd, president of the MU Chapter of NORML, said the key is to humanize marijuana.

“I think if more people are willing to talk about it and normalize it then we can start seeing the legislative process follow through,” Ladd said.

Both Ladd and Dundon join the numerous ranks of medical marijuana supporters in the state who feel confident that it will make it on the 2018 ballot and even have a great chance at becoming law.

For now though, they will both be working toward that goal one signature at a time.

KOMU 8 News reached out to groups that have previously spoken out against legalization, but none returned calls or emails.

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