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COLUMBIA - A Columbia Public Schools board member announced his support for marijuana legalization in Missouri on Thursday evening.

Paul Stephen Cushing spoke in downtown Columbia at the 'Cannabis Caucus,' which was hosted by Better Way Missouri. He is currently the chair on the Board of Education Finance Committee and a member of the board's policy Committee.

Cushing is the first CPS representative to advocate for marijuana legalization, according to a representative from Better Way Missouri. He said he is not representing CPS in his advocacy, and his decision to speak is based on his own personal views.

"I don't smoke, and I have no hidden agenda for doing this. It simply sounds like the right thing to do for me, and I wanted to voice my opinion on it," Cushing said.

Cushing said there are three reasons he's choosing to speak out for statewide legalization: financial responsibilities, school safety, and compassion.

"Being fiscally responsible, that's a big deal for me," Cushing said. "It also makes sense from the perspective of keeping it out of schools. If you legalize it and regulate it, I believe that you're going to eventually remove it from the ability of kids to get it."

For the first time in Missouri's history, the legalization of recreational marijuana could be on a statewide ballot in 2018. Initiative 2018-090 lists a "minor" as anyone under the age of 21, meaning 21 would be the legal age to purchase marijuana if it were to become legal. 

Cushing said he is also a believer in medicinal marijuana.

"Beyond that, there's the compassion issue. We talk about people with AIDS, cancer, or any sort of disease that marijuana can help - it may not cure them, but it makes it easier for them to live with that."

Joshua Lee, a disabled veteran suffering from PTSD and founder of Veteran's Alliance for Compassionate Access, said marijuana lowered his anxiety in ways that prescription medication couldn't.

"For the first time in seven years, I got to hold my wife's hand in public. I was walking in public areas without freaking out and reaching for a knife or a gun. I was able to speak with my back to a window - remarkable. I've never done that in seven years since I came back from Afghanistan."

"PTSD is a mental stab wound, and it causes anxiety, depression, stress. It can cause a host of issues, physical and mental as well," Lee said.

"I was unable to hold my wife's hand in public because I needed to be able to react in case something attacked us. And locking my hand in hers, knowing I'm in America and safe... I still couldn't do it. I'd start freaking out, yell, lose my temper, and stomp off." 

Lee said marijuana lowers these side effects without giving him additional side effects that his traditional prescription medication did. He also said he hopes more public leaders follow in the footsteps of Cushing.

"The fact that Mr. Cushing has the courage as a school official to step up and say, 'The science and data supports this, and needs to be a medicine' is amazing. I truly, truly hope that more people in this state come out, as professionals... And say that we agree - this is a medicine and we need it legal."