KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Department of Health and Senior Services issued a letter clarifying medical marijuana patients' rights to possess. This came after attorneys, organizations, state legislators, and law enforcement raised concerns about confusion with the law.
"We were very excited when they issued this letter. I think a lot of people in the medical marijuana community were," said Darby Cook, founder of Missouri Cannabis Clinic. "Just to have more clear rules on the books for everyone to see, including our law enforcement officers."
The confusion lies in whether medical marijuana card holders can legally possess medical marijuana with no dispensaries open yet.
DHSS says yes, without a doubt, according to its letter.
While Article XIV does not directly address the question, it says that patients have rights and protections with a legitimate medical marijuana card or physician certification.
Article XIV never mandated that patients' rights are valid only when dispensaries are open.
"I think sometimes people like an explanation, and I think we had had enough calls about various questions that we felt like it was time to go ahead and do that," said Lyndall Fraker, director of the DHSS section for medical marijuana regulation.
Though Article XIV does not say where patients or facilities that sell or grow marijuana should get the marijuana, their rights are protected under the Missouri constitution once they possess the marijuana.
Fraker said the timeline of the roll-out process indicates patient rights clearly.
The state began approving applications for patient use and sending out cards back in June. However, the state started accepting applications for facilities in August.
It takes months from the time a business sends in an application to the time the business is actually harvesting and selling marijuana. Because of this timeline, Fraker said it's no question patients would already have the right to have and use medical marijuana regardless of if dispensaries are open or not.
The state's clarification has important implications for a lot of people. The state has already issued more than 30,000 cards to patients.
The majority of patients would have had to come to a clinic to get their card. It's kind of like any other doctor's office. The patient would fill out paperwork about why they need a card, discuss their conditions with the doctor, and the doctor sends off their information to the state.
If a physician certifies the patient, the state will send a card within a month.
Dr. Michael Poppa evaluates and certifies patients for a card at the Missouri Cannabis Clinic. He specializes in occupational medicine.
"We'll discuss with them their medical conditions and make sure it's a qualifying condition. Not all conditions will qualify you," Cook said. "They also have to bring in some form of proof in form of medical records."
The most common conditions they see are chronic pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia and mental conditions such as anxiety or depression.
Cook said extra clarification could have helped in the very beginning of the process because the people she sees want to follow the law.
"I think moving forward, we're going to need a lot more education all around," Cook said.
Joani Harshman and Aubrey Gann-Redmon are cannabis attorneys who sent a letter to DHSS asking for clarification after their client, Jamie Wilson, was pulled over for having marijuana in his car. Wilson is a medical marijuana card holder.
Gann-Redmon sent the following statement to 41 Action News:
We are very encouraged and grateful to the guidance provided by DHSS, and were informed by the prosecutor in the Wilson case that she has reviewed the statement and is seriously considering its implications on the case and will get back to us well in advance of the motion to dismiss hearing with her take on how she is going to proceed in light of this development. Patients across the State got some much needed support from DHSS, and we hope that judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement embrace this paradigm shift sooner rather than later.
As of Jan. 27, the state had issued medical marijuana cards to 30,261 patients, 840 caregivers, and 9,709 patient/caregiver cultivators.
Below, see a sample of a card the state emails patients once they're approved.