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Opinion: Regardless of belief, read medical marijuana petition closely

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Like a puff of smoke, change appears to be in the air.

I’m referring to medical marijuana, which is gaining favor in the public eye, as evidenced by voters approving its use last fall in neighboring Arkansas. The Natural State followed several others that have given the green light to medical or recreational pot.

During Missouri Press Association’s annual convention held Sept. 28-30 in Springfield, panelists brought the topic front of mind.

State Rep. Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, during a breakout session said he supports medical marijuana in Missouri, but he doesn’t believe the legislature will pass it into law. Rather, he predicted voters would give it the nod. The following day, during a panel discussion with political consultants, Travis Smith, partner with Kansas City firm Axiom Strategies, concurred with Haahr’s prediction.

Separately, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft spoke on the need for initiative petition reform, specifically in terms of ballot language. He said his office strives to make the ballot language as clear as possible for initiative petitions, but the length of some can be daunting to succinctly summarize.

Petitions came up among the political consultant panelists as well, with Smith – quite accurately – saying it’s hard enough to get voters to read the summary on the ballot, much less the full petition.

The problem is, with one medical marijuana petition led by a Springfield businessman, the devil is in the details. 

Approved Jan. 5 for circulation by Ashcroft’s office, Dr. Brad Bradshaw’s initiative petition calls on the legalization of medical marijuana; imposing a 15 percent tax on the retail sale of marijuana, as well as a tax on wholesale revenue; and the use of those funds to establish a state research institute tasked with developing cures and treatments for cancer and other diseases or medical conditions. The constitutional amendment approved for circulation would generate an estimated $66 million in annual taxes and fees, and require $186,000 to implement and annual operating costs of $500,000.

I talked to Bradshaw. He tells me the petition has around 150,000 signatures, close to the 160,199 needed to put a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 7, 2018, ballot, according to Ashcroft’s office.

“The research board shall consist of nine members to be selected, as soon as applicable, by the Article XIV coordinator,” the petition reads, further stating “the person who is designated on the initially submitted petition submission cover page to be the contact person … shall serve as the Article XIV coordinator.”

As stated in the petition, Bradshaw says he would only temporarily serve in the coordinator role and would not receive compensation.

“I’m uniquely qualified to make sure we get some of the most high-powered scientists in the world,” he says. “There’s nobody else in the state that is as qualified and has as much knowledge on this as I do.”

The initial board members selected by Bradshaw would serve three- or six-year terms. Then a five-member nonpartisan commission would select candidates to fill vacancies to cycle through every six years. The members of that commission would be elected by Missouri’s licensed physicians and pharmacists, according to the petition.

Beyond the legalization of medical marijuana, Bradshaw points to economic and research benefits.

“I’m talking about really finding the cure for cancer and other diseases, like Parkinson’s,” he says. “I think these cures exist. We just have to uncover them.”

Personally, I’m for the legalization of medical marijuana and I’m certainly in favor of removing the scourge of cancer from this earth. The petition sounds like a win-win – and may well be.

However, the portion suggesting Bradshaw should personally pick the board members for the research institute comes off a bit strange. While Bradshaw – as a physician, surgeon and lawyer – certainly seems qualified, it feels like a conflict of interest for the petition he submitted to give him such a position of power, even if it’s just for the first few years. According to the language, however, Bradshaw would be hands-off after making his selections.

I recommend heading to the Missouri secretary of state’s website to read the petition – No. 2018-041 – before signing your John Hancock and especially before you head to the ballot next year. It’s worth noting, as well, seven other initiative petitions related to medical marijuana were approved for circulation in the 2018 election cycle.

Do yourself a favor and read them, too. It’s important to be well educated when voting, especially when ballot summaries can’t tell the full tale.

Springfield Business Journal Web Producer Geoff Pickle can be reached at gpickle@sbj.net.

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