Missouri senators discuss barring discrimination against parents for medical marijuana use

BY CAITLIN R. KING
Missouri News Network

JEFFERSON CITY — A bill that would prohibit family courts from discriminating against a parent or custodian for using medical marijuana was discussed by the Committee for Seniors, Families, Veterans & Military Affairs Wednesday morning.

Sponsored by Sen. Barbara Anne Washington, D-Kansas City, Senate Bill 357 “is asking that we not punish or prejudice those persons who actually have a medical marijuana card, got it and are using only medical marijuana...” to help alleviate problems “like a chronic disease, chronic illnesses (or) chronic pain,” Washington said.

Washington continued, “(parents) are not punished for (taking) other meds. We don’t punish them for smoking cigarettes. We don’t punish them if they drink, unless it’s excessive of course. So if they are legally doing medical marijuana, then we want to make sure that those parents are not prejudiced and prevented from reunifying with their child.”

The committee’s chair, Sen. Bill White, R-Joplin, pointed out that family court can deal with issues of addiction.

“If you do have an alcohol issue, the court can say ‘don’t drink it,’” White said. “Now I know that’s a little different than a medical marijuana card, but a medical marijuana card is not the same as a (prescription) written under our federal system of how we write for narcotics and other such things.”

Washington clarified that “our family court system identifies when those people do have a problem, and they are placed in treatment programs. Whether they are alcohol related, addicted to drugs, whether they’re legal or prescribed drugs.”

“We’re just asking that the medical marijuana card be given some consideration as well and that not be the total bar (for custody and visitation removal),” Washington emphasized.

Five witnesses were rushed through their testimony by the committee due to a scheduling issue, all of whom were in favor of the bill.

Paul Callicoat is a retired interventional cardiologist from Joplin and a medical marijuana patient.

“I find it unbelievable that in court, someone could hold that against me. It’s a constitutional right to use medical marijuana,” Callicoat said.

He added, “Marijuana is not the boogeyman.”

Cynthia Northcutt, a family law attorney and registered nurse, agreed.

“Cannabis is medicine. It was not always the devil’s lettuce, until 1937 cannabis was listed in the U.S. pharmacopoeia and was routinely used as over the counter and prescription medication both in the United States and worldwide,” she said. “There is significant, high quality, peer reviewed evidence that cannabis is effective in treating and/or managing many health conditions ... Missouri voters approved a process for people who wish to become a qualifying patient and use medical cannabis is not easy to be a patient, you must meet the criteria set forth in Article 14 (of the constitution.)”

The executive director of NORML Kansas City, Jamie Kacz, spoke about her experience as a parent and medical marijuana patient.

“I have been in family court, and I’ve had my status of just being a cannabis activist used against me by an abusive ex-spouse,” Kacz said. “I had to carry the stigma with me through court proceedings, and I had to participate in drug testing, just for exercising my First Amendment rights to reform cannabis laws in Missouri, to help other Missourians gain access to medicine that they needed. I have never had legal issues or committed any crime. But that did not matter. Was my cannabis advocacy held against me? Yes. Did my children suffer as a result of that? Yes they did.

Legal medical marijuana patients should not live in fear of losing their children. No patient deserves to have their family torn apart, due to their status as a legal marijuana patient” she said.

Food deserts

The committee also heard testimony for SB 441, which would address issues of food insecurity and food deserts in Missouri.

Also sponsored by Washington, the bill would establish the Missouri Food Security Task Force. The Task Force’s job would be to “study food insecurity ... identify those populations and identify the limits to accessibility to healthy food, and also determine how we can address that,” Washington said.

Research done by Feeding America projected that 50.4 million people, which includes 17 million children, would be food-insecure in 2020. That projection is a 13.2 million and 5.8 million increase from 2018, respectively.

“We want to study the (long-term effects of) hunger because we know that when children are hungry, they grow up and they are less developed,” Washington said. “They develop more chronic diseases and the last thing we need, and I can say that, as a new Grandma, is that they sometimes have behavioral problems. And so if we can get healthy food and get them access to healthy food, we can prevent some of those long term ills that happen in our community.”