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Missouri won't cut off aid to poor people over medical marijuana use

Missouri won't cut off aid to poor people over medical marijuana use

Legalizing Marijuana

Marijuana is weighed and packaged for sale at the Northwest Patient Resource Center medical marijuana dispensary, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

JEFFERSON CITY — After months of review, Gov. Mike Parson’s administration will allow Missourians who receive certain welfare benefits to use medical marijuana.

In a statement to the Post-Dispatch, the Department of Social Services said participants in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program would not see their benefits affected if they test positive for marijuana and they have a doctor-issued medical cannabis card allowing them to legally purchase pot.

The administration’s decision answers one of a wide array of questions about how to implement a medical marijuana initiative approved by more than 65% of voters last November.

The Missouri Veterans Commission, for example, decided to ban the use of medical cannabis at its nursing homes in order to keep federal funding rolling into the state.

The MVC decision, which affects about 1,350 residents of nursing homes in Bellefontaine Neighbors, Warrensburg, Mount Vernon, St. James, Cape Girardeau, Mexico and Cameron, is mostly about money.

Federal funds pay a portion of the more than $80 million it takes to operate the homes, and Missouri officials don’t want to jeopardize that revenue stream. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs still considers pot an illegal drug, commission staff said.

Amendment 2 legalizes the cultivation of cannabis, as well as the production of marijuana and marijuana infused products to aid patients suffering from 10 debilitating illnesses, including Parkinson’s, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, epilepsy, glaucoma and cancer.

But, under a 2011 law signed by former Gov. Jay Nixon, the state developed a program to screen welfare applicants for drug use.

Under the TANF program, which provides cash benefits to an average of about 21,800 individuals and 9,400 families each month, the state requires officials to ask applicants about illegal drug use.

Recipients may be then required to take a drug test. If they do not show up for the appointment or do not complete the drug test, they will not receive benefits for themselves for three years.

Under the revamped policy, Woelfel said some individuals approved for assistance will be required to submit to drug testing. They can waive that test, but they would then we required to go to a substance abuse treatment program.

“If an individual fails a drug test, testing positive for marijuana only, and does not have a medical marijuana card, they can receive TANF benefits only if they get substance abuse treatment,” Woelfel said.

Questions about how the agency would handle the medical marijuana question prompted state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, to introduce legislation in January that would allow recipients of welfare to keep their benefits if they test positive for medical marijuana.

The measure did not advance before lawmakers adjourned in May.

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