Legislation would expand ‘Right to Try’ Act

Rep. Jim Neely (R-Cameron) introduced HB 437 to give terminally ill patients access to medical marijuana.

“Missourians fighting for their lives don’t have time to wait for the FDA to approve investigational treatments that contain cannabis,” said Neely, a physician. “We need to do everything we can as a State to give more choices to people struggling with terminal-illnesses.”

Neely’s bill expands a 2014 law he sponsored, known as the “Right to Try Act”, to include medical marijuana. Missouri’s Right to Try law currently excludes medical marijuana, but otherwise allows terminally ill patients to access experimental drugs outside clinical trials before they are approved for general use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“If a doctor thinks a certain medication could help me in some way, then that’s up to us,” said Neely’s daughter, Kirstina Brogan in a 2014 interview; she succumbed to stage four colorectal cancer in 2015. “That shouldn’t be up to somebody that has no involvement in my care.”

Though many clinical trials are underway to study medical marijuana, less than 10 percent of terminally-ill patients are even eligible to participate.

“We applaud Representative Neely’s compassionate effort to expand Missouri’s Right to Try law,” said Frank Burroughs, President of the The Abigail Alliance for Better Access to Developmental Drugs. “There are FDA approved clinical trials underway to further test medical marijuana in various illnesses, but too many patients are left without access to those trials under our current laws.”

Missouri has already granted licenses to two cannabis growers, but they are restricted to low-THC plants and can only produce one type of anticonvulsant cannabis oil for people with intractable epilepsy. HB 437 removes those restrictions and expands access to patients with terminal-illnesses and other seriously debilitating conditions. Scientists say the law would allow for more crucial research to be conducted on medical marijuana.

“It is critically important to study the risks and benefits of medicinal cannabis,” said Dr. Adie Poe, a neuroscientist who studies how cannabis can relieve chronic pain and decrease opioid use. “Without this bill, there is no legal framework within which to study how cannabis fails or excels at improving people’s lives.”

Law enforcement officials praised the move, saying police officers prefer to focus on more serious, violent offenses.

“Our State needs to take action to show compassion to suffering Missourians so that police officers can focus on locking up dangerous criminals,” said Mike Sharp, Jackson County Sheriff and President of the Missouri Sheriff’s Association.

Some activists are already seeking to get medical cannabis on the 2018 ballot in Missouri, with an initiative petition already filed with the Secretary of State. Others believe the State legislature will take a serious stab at the issue now that the drug is legal in most states, including neighboring Arkansas.