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Big names, big money come through to help medical marijuana initiative

peter.a_photography | Flickr

With less than six months to go, at least one proposal to legalize medicinal use of marijuana in Missouri appears to be in a strong position to get on statewide ballots next year.

New Approach Missouri says it already has collected 100,000 signatures from registered voters, and expects to have well over the necessary 165,000 by the state’s May 6 deadline for submitting initiative petitions.

“This is an issue that really crosses partisan and regional  boundaries,’’ said spokesman Jack Cardetti. He cited last year’s successful legalization votes for medical marijuana in Arkansas, North Dakota and Florida.

New Approach Missouri is by far the most visible — and has raised the most money — among the groups that have filed at least 22 pro-pot initiative petitions with the Missouri Secretary of State’s office.

None of the others appear to have launched significant signature-collection efforts.

New Approach’s biggest donor is Drug Policy Action, a New York-based group that has assisted marijuana legalization efforts in several states. The group has donated at least $200,000 to help the Missouri campaign.

Ellen Flenniken, a managing director with Drug Policy Action, said it helped craft the details of New Approach’s ballot proposal.

“The language is really good, so we believe it’s the right way to legalize medical marijuana,” Flenniken said. “We want to support the effort as much as we can.”

New Approach’s proposal would allow licensed physicians to recommend marijuana or related products for patients suffering from dozens of specified illnesses. It also calls for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to issue licenses to growers and to retailers.

A 4 percent tax would be imposed on sales, with an estimated $20 million a year going to veterans services and programs.

Cardetti said veterans deserve the proceeds, because many return from war zones suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder — or PTSD. That’s one of the ailments that marijuana can help treat.

Cardetti said New Approach is not concerned about recent reports that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions may go after some of the 29 states that have legalized marijuana. Sessions is particularly concerned about the states that allow marijuana for recreational use, as well as for medicinal purposes.

Cardetti pointed to two restrictions in New Approach’s measure. It would still be illegal for people to use marijuana in public or while driving.

New Approach Missouri also has gotten a campaign boost in recent weeks from singer Melissa Etheridge and former St. Louis Rams offensive lineman Kyle Turley. Both are featured in New Approach’s latest campaign appeals.

A cancer survivor, Etheridge says that cannabis has helped her tolerate the chemotherapy treatments and their side effects.

So far, there’s no organized opposition in Missouri to any of the pro-marijuana proposals. But New Approach Missouri expects that to change if it makes the ballot.

Follow Jo on Twitter: @jmannies

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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