"Back Off Our Ballot Initiative"
While waiting outside the Greene County courthouse Wednesday morning, little Ayden Markum had a cluster of five seizures. The 3-year-old has intractable epilepsy and cerebral palsy.
Ashley Markum comforted her son, letting him know that she was there. She then pushed his wheelchair in circles to soothe him. Ayden seemed to enjoy the warm breeze hitting his face.
The Markums have traveled twice to Colorado, where medical marijuana is legal. There, they were able to purchase cannabis oil, or CBD oil, and gave it to Ayden via his feeding tube.
"He smiled and laughed for the first time. He attempted to hold his head up and attempted to do different things," Ashley recalled. "It was awesome. Everyone was crying."
While being treated with cannabis oil, Ayden's seizures decreased by half, Ashley said. The cannabis oil product they used does not create a high.
The Markums, along with a retired doctor and a medical marijuana advocate, were at the courthouse to deliver a letter to Prosecutor Dan Patterson. The letter expressed disappointment in Patterson for joining a lawsuit to keep the medical cannabis initiative petition off the November ballot.
"(E)very poll in Missouri has shown greater than 63 percent support for establishing a medical cannabis program among Missouri voters," the letter read in part. "We ask you to withdraw your intervention in the case of New Approach Missouri vs Missouri Secretary of State and let the will of the people be known at the ballot box."
Lee Winters holds the door open for Ashley Markum and her son Ayden Markum, 3, as the enter the Greene County Courthouse on Wednesday, August 24, 2016. Markum and Winters were delivering the letter to the Greene County Prosecutor asking that he drop his intervention in a lawsuit that would place a medical marijuana ballot initiative on the November ballot. Markum said that Ayden, who has cerebral palsy and intractable epilepsy, benefitted greatly from the use of medical marijuana.
Patterson was busy with a jury trial Wednesday morning and unable to meet with the Markums. The letter was instead given to a representative from Patterson's office.
Patterson and 12 other prosecuting attorneys from across the state filed a motion to intervene last week in an effort to block a medical marijuana proposition from being on the November ballot.
In the motion, the prosecutors claim in part that marijuana is a "destructive drug, with no proven benefits (medical or otherwise)" and a "gateway drug, which destroys children’s lives and results in addiction and a lifetime of suffering."
The prosecutors' motion goes on to say, "With ever increasing rates of addiction to currently legal drugs, purported legalization which could lead to ease of access to marijuana would be a devastating mistake for millions of Missourians."
Lee Winters is president of New Approach Missouri, the group that worked to get an initiative on the November ballot that would legalize medical marijuana across the state of Missouri through a petition. Though there were enough signatures, earlier this month Secretary of State Jason Kander found some of the signatures were not legitimate and the petition fell short of the required amount by about 2,200 signatures.
Winters said he believes it will be no problem to show those 2,200 signatures were improperly invalidated by the county reviewers in Congressional District 2 by the Sept. 30 deadline. New Approach Missouri is suing Kander to reinstate those signatures.
The group of prosecutors, in their motion to intervene, say they support Kander's determination that the initiative petition doesn't have enough valid signatures and that they believe it violates the Missouri Constitution because marijuana is illegal under federal law.
Outside of the courthouse Wednesday, Markum said her family would consider moving to a state where medical marijuana is legal if the law doesn't change in Missouri.
"We have tried over the past two years every pharmaceutical that we can try for him and having no benefit," she said. "All we want is to be able to try medical cannabis for Ayden. All we want is to improve his quality of life just like any parent would and to leave that decision up to our doctor and us."
Ashley Markum signs a letter held by Lee Winters in front of the Greene County Courthouse on Wednesday, August 24, 2016. Markum and Winters were delivering the letter to the Greene County Prosecutor asking that he drop his intervention in a lawsuit that would place a medical marijuana ballot initiative on the November ballot. Markum said that her son Ayden Markum, 3, who has cerebral palsy and intractable epilepsy, benefitted greatly from the use of medical marijuana.
Markum said her son has suffered serious side effects from different seizure medications. For example, Markum said Ayden was eating fine from 18 months to two and a half years. Now, because of side effects to an anti-seizure pharmaceutical drug, he relies on a feeding tube.
"They are not gentle drugs," she said.
Winters spoke to reporters before attempting to deliver the letter to Patterson.
"Every single year across the country over 35,000 people die due to complications and overdoses related to prescription opioids," he said. "In addition to that, over 22 veterans a month commit suicide from complications related to post-traumatic stress. In no way is justice served by preventing these patients from having access to a medical therapeutic agent that is proven to be safe and effective over and over again.
"(The prosecutors) need to understand that as an elected official, they are going against the will of the majority of Missouri voters," Winters continued. "Every single poll has shown between 60 and 70 percent of the people in the state of Missouri strongly support doctors and patients being able to make this decision for themselves.
"These are public servants," Winters said, referring to the group of prosecutors. "They have no business intervening in the medical decisions of Missouri patients."
Asked if he was surprised by the prosecutors' move, Winters nodded.
Ayden, 3, and Ashley Markum wait with Lee Winters, president of New Approach Missouri, in Greene County Prosecutor Dan Patterson's office Wednesday. They were hoping to deliver a letter, calling on him to withdraw a legal attempt to block a medical marijuana initiative petition from the November ballot.
"We expected someone to come out against us. We just never dreamed that it would be an elected official preventing Missouri voters from making their decision," Winters said. "They are using taxpayer dollars to prevent the taxpayers from making their own decision."
Though the prosecutors say the ballot initiative is unconstitutional, Winters pointed out that 25 other states allow medical marijuana programs and have shown there "is no constitutional discrepancy between federal law and state law."
Frederic Hamburg, a retired pediatrician, also spoke in front of the courthouse Wednesday. Hamburg said he believes cannabis is "probably the most effective pain relieving medicine that there is available."
"The other medicines that are used are narcotics. We have a tremendous problem with narcotic addiction in the United States which is increasing," Hamburg said. "Apparently one out of 10 surgical patients become addicted to narcotics.
"If marijuana were discovered today, it would be hailed as one of the greatest medical advances since antibiotics," he added.
Dr. Frederic Hamburg, right, along with Lee Winters, Ashley Markum and her son Ayden Markum, 3, speak in front of the Greene County Courthouse before delivering a letter to the Greene County Prosecutor asking that he drop his intervention in a lawsuit that would place a medical marijuana ballot initiative on the November ballot.
Hamburg said there are many myths about the use of cannabis as a medical treatment, including that patients are getting high.
"It does not cause highs in most people at the dosages used for pain. There is even a form of marijuana that can be used for medical purposes that does not have that effect to any degree at all," Hamburg said.
According to Hamburg, marijuana is also an effective treatment for patients who suffer from intractable seizures, like Ayden, as well as more than 50 other conditions.
Hamburg showed a letter he had recently sent to the News-Leader for publication. In it, Hamburg criticized the group of prosecutors for trying to block the medical marijuana initiative from being on the ballot.
"Medical decisions belong in the hands of doctors and patients," he said firmly. "Not in our elected officials."
Reached later, Patterson said his joining the other prosecutors and filing the motion has nothing to do with medical decisions.
"It simply has to do with this measure is unconstitutional," Patterson said.
"As Missouri prosecutors, we've all taken an oath to uphold the Missouri Constitution and the Constitution of the United States," he said. "The U.S. Constitution is clear: Missouri laws cannot contradict federal laws. You can't choose which federal laws to obey or not obey.