Fewer than 3 percent of the applications for patient and caregiver medical marijuana cards in Missouri have been from prospective caregivers, and that’s a mistake, attorney Dan Viets said on Saturday.
Viets, a Columbia-based attorney and board chair of the Missouri Cannabis Industry Association, spoke on legal issues around medical marijuana during the association’s Medical Marijuana Patient and Caregiver Seminar at the Tiger Hotel on Saturday.
Of the 12,665 applications sent into the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services for medical cards, he said, 12,341 have been from patients.
Only 324 of the applications have been for caregivers. Patients should designate a caregiver, Viets said.
Because caregivers are also allowed to grow, buy and have marijuana, it makes sense to designate a friend or family member so they can be protected, as well, Viets said. Anybody over 21 who has some responsibility over a patient’s well-being can be their designated caregiver, he said.
“It doesn’t mean you have to be bedridden and they’re feeding you in bed every day, just have some significant responsibility,” Viets said. “And, in most cases, it’ll be that they’re cultivating cannabis for the patient.”
The event brought together experts to speak on growing medical marijuana at home, legal issues involving medical marijuana and research around it. It also brought together aspiring medical marijuana businesses, as well as patient and caregiver advocacy groups and resources.
Columbia business owner John Borland has applied to set up a 10,000 square foot growing facility, which he estimated would cost about half a million dollars. It could produce about 260 pounds of marijuana each month, he said. The company would plant in groups every week or two, so they’re continuously harvesting, he said. It takes about 8 weeks from planting to harvest, and a few more to cure the flower, he said.
Much of the medical marijuana consumed in Missouri will come from commercial operations like the one Borland seeks to operate, but patients and caregivers can choose to grow their own.
They have to make a second application, including a description of where they intend to grow the plants. If approved, they can possess up to six plants, each, as long as they’re kept in a locked and secure place, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
Viets said new medical marijuana laws and regulations are going to be a learning experience for everyone. There probably isn’t a police officer or prosecutor in the state who has memorized all the new rules yet, he said.
“I think it’s important that we have patience, but we also need to help educate law enforcement officers in this state,” Viets said.
Patients and caregivers who possess marijuana have to be certain they’re following the law and using their rights. Caregivers can possess, grow and purchase medical marijuana for their patients, but it’s a good idea for them to photocopy their license and their patients’ and keep those with any marijuana they’ve packaged for the patient, Viets said.
There are a few areas of the law that aren’t clear, and will likely be up to the interpretation of individual judges for now. One of those issues is whether people who are on probation, parole or pretrial release can use medical marijuana without violating the conditions of their release, which often include drug testing.
“So, will a judge allow a patient to consume legally while that patient is on a pre-trial release?” Viets said. “I’m ready to argue that they ought to, and I’ll be happy to take it up on appeal.”
Another unresolved issue is whether medical marijuana patients can own firearms, as it’s technically illegal to possess marijuana and a gun.
Viets said he has never heard of a case of someone having a firearm taken away because they used medical marijuana. It is possible that patients may not be able to buy more guns, but it’s not likely they’ll have their guns confiscated, he said.
St. Louis-based Dr. Mimi Vo gave a wide-ranging presentation covering everything from the history of using cannabis as medicine, to the science behind cannabinoids and how different strains of marijuana can be used to treat different conditions.
There has not been as much solid research on medical marijuana as many doctors would like, largely because there hasn’t been federal funding for the research, Vo said.
Trials are becoming more common as attitudes around marijuana change, and there is enough evidence to show that marijuana can help with conditions ranging from cancer to irritable bowel syndrome, she said.
Addressing a question from the audience, Vo said recent reports of people being hospitalized, and even dying, from serious lung damage caused by vaping have mainly been linked to the black market.
Many of the cases are young people, especially men, who vape constantly throughout the day. Some black market THC cartridges use oils that coat the inside of the lung, keeping them from dispersing oxygen. That can cause inflammation, and lung failure in severe cases, she said.
Vaporizing dry flower is a better alternative to vaporizing liquid or smoking flower because it’s safer and allows the patient to consume other beneficial chemicals from the plant, she said. Patients should avoid vaporizing constantly and should always make sure they know where the product they’re using is coming from and that it’s been tested, she said.