With voters making Oklahoma the 30th state in the nation to legalize medical marijuana last Tuesday, advocacy groups in Missouri are hoping to ride the wave into the November election.

Four initiative petitions seeking legalization of medical marijuana were submitted to the Secretary of State’s Office for certification this year, and the group behind one of those is confident it will make it on the ballot.

New Approach Missouri is one of the leading medical marijuana advocacy groups in Missouri and has been working for years to get the question before voters. The group fell 2,200 short in 2016 of getting an initiative petition measure on the ballot after more than 10,000 signatures were invalidated by the secretary of state. The group sued, asking the court to overturn the ruling and count the signatures that were invalidated but ultimately failed.

New Approach spokesman Jack Cardetti said the decision in Oklahoma will bode well for Missouri this fall.

“We have yet another neighboring state that is allowing patients with debilitating conditions to work with a doctor to find the most appropriate medical treatment option,” Cardetti said. “That now makes 30 states, and that is a factor that gives Missourians quite a bit of comfort when they go to the polls in November.”

In May, New Approach submitted more than 372,000 signatures on its petitions, 10,000 more than what’s required. A spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office said signatures are still being counted and verified by the local election authorities. The Secretary of State’s Office has until Aug. 14 to certify qualifying initiative petitions.

“We’re 100 percent confident,” that the petition will be certified for the November election, Cardetti said. “We started the effort extra earlier this year and were helped by a tremendous outpouring by volunteers across the state.”

Trish Bertrand, former executive director of the Springfield chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, also said the vote in Oklahoma indicates good prospects for Missouri.

“Oklahoma passing it in an off-election year in the margin that they did shows that Missouri is ready,” Bertrand said.

Springfield NORML supports the initiative petition sponsored by New Approach Missouri because it has the most patient-friendly language.

“It allows the doctors and patients to have real conversations and decide on their own if cannabis therapy is a good option,” Bertrand said. “It will have almost a free market feel to it.”

New Approach’s language taxes the retail sale of marijuana at 4 percent, which would be collected by the Missouri Veterans Commission for veterans health care.

Legislation to legalize medical marijuana gained traction in the General Assembly this year, passing the House 112-44, but died in the Senate in the last weeks of the session. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jim Neely, R-Cameron, would allow people with terminal illnesses or certain medical conditions to use marijuana.

Of the now 30 states that have legalized marijuana, either recreational or medical, 15 have done so since 2010. Voters in Michigan will get the chance to legalize recreational marijuana in November, while Utah will have a medical marijuana question on its ballot. Michigan legalized medical marijuana in 2008.

The rise of opioid use and overdoses in the United States could be a key factor in the rapid increase of state legalizations, Bertrand said.

“The opiate crisis has led a lot of citizens to take another look at medical cannabis,” Bertrand said. “It is a viable alternative to opiates, and states that have broad medical cannabis programs have shown anywhere from a 20 to 25 percent decrease in accidental opiate overdoses and suicides.”

Reporter

Tyler covers Jasper County, which includes the Carthage City Council, Jasper County Commission and anything in between. Tyler can be reached at twornell@joplinglobe.com or 417.627.7258.