The Missouri State Medical Association, like its national counterpart, the American Medical Association, refuses to take a formal policy stance on medical marijuana. In recent years, though, the drug has been used to treat the symptoms of an increasingly broad array of illnesses.

St. Louis resident Mark Pedersen suffers seizures and severe migraines from the muscle-and-tissue disease fibromyalgia. He says he tried several high-powered prescription drugs for years but only found relief in marijuana. In 2005 he established the Cannabis Patient Network and began traveling the country, lobbying lawmakers and interviewing others who use marijuana medicinally.

"We're talking tens of thousands of people in Missouri who could be medical-cannabis patients, without a doubt," says Pedersen. "Illnesses like fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's disease, Parkinson's — the list of people who could benefit from the use of cannabis is very lengthy."

A newer convert is recently elected state representative Mike Colona, a Democrat who represents the city's Tower Grove neighborhood. Colona says he agreed to cosponsor the latest bill because of his experience as a board member for the Saint Louis Effort for AIDS.

"I spoke to several doctors who treat AIDS patients, and it was their opinion, overwhelmingly, that the ability to prescribe marijuana would be very beneficial," Colona says.

"We trust our physicians to prescribe narcotics that are much more powerful than marijuana for their patients — OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin — that kind of thing. If we're trusting doctors to do the right thing with potent drugs like that, I think we can afford the medical community the courtesy to treat this drug the same way."

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