Welfare Recipients in Missouri Now Have Access to Medical Marijuana

Welfare recipients will now be eligible to take part in Missouri’s brand-new medical marijuana program, state officials have decided. After months of consideration, the state Department of Social Services has announced that it will not cut benefits to any participant in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program if they test positive for cannabis — as long as they have a registered medical marijuana card.

Missouri’s TANF program provides additional cash funding to around 21,800 needy individuals and 9,400 families each month. Starting in 2011, Missouri passed a law requiring all TANF applicants to pass a drug test to remain eligible for the program. Any applicant who fails the drug test, or fails to show up for the drug test, will be banned from receiving benefits for three years.

Many were concerned that this drug testing policy would force needy families to choose between state assistance and medical marijuana. State Senator Jamilah Nasheed (D-St. Louis) proposed a bill that would officially allow welfare recipients to keep their benefits while using medical cannabis, but this bill did not advance during the last legislative session. Fortunately, the state has decided that TANF applicants will not be kicked out of the program for using medical marijuana.

Veterans currently residing in state-funded nursing homes are out of luck when it comes to medical cannabis, however. The Missouri Veterans Commission decided to ban all use of medical marijuana at its nursing homes. This commission made this decision out of fear of losing federal funding, which pays for a portion of the nursing homes’ $80 million budget. Because cannabis still remains a Schedule I drug, federal officials can revoke the funding from any medical facility that allows marijuana on its premises, even if otherwise legal in the state.

Last fall, Missouri voters were faced with three different medical marijuana legalization ballot initiatives, but the majority voted for the least restrictive of the three measures. The new law allows doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients suffering from ten qualifying conditions; registered patients can grow up to six plants apiece; and it also permits licensed medical cannabis businesses to operate in the state.

Although medical marijuana is now technically legal, the state has not yet completed the licensing process that will allow businesses to grow or dispense this plant medicine. In the meantime, police are still cracking down on Missourians who have chosen to flaunt their medicine. This past spring, a judge sentenced a 60-year-old man suffering from diabetes, seizures, and respiratory issues to ten years in jail for growing his own medical marijuana.

Alas, the fight to end prohibition is far from over. 

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