Gary McCourt talks about the founding of the NORML Norhtwest Missouri chapter on  Monday afternoon at St. Joe Hydro.

A group of St. Joseph residents are hoping to change the perception of medical marijuana.

The Northwest Missouri chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) held its first meeting on Aug. 9.

Executive director of the local chapter Gary McCourt is spearheading the group. The disabled railroad engineer started using medical marijuana when a back injury landed him in the hospital — and on narcotics.

“Do I have pain? Yes. Do I medicate? Yes. But I don’t have to have narcotics,” McCourt said. “I don’t have to be addicted to it.”

Despite the legalization of medical marijuana in Missouri, McCourt said there’s still some confusion of recreational and medical use.

“(Marijuana) has been known to alleviate pain. There’s so many benefits you get from it,” McCourt said. “We’re about adult, responsible use. There’s a difference between that and somebody driving down the highway smoking a joint.”

McCourt has found support from St. Joe Hydro, a hydroponics and medical growing equipment store that also offers consultations and classes.

“We’re advocated for the consumer side to allow safe, convenient and affordable medication to responsible adults,” said Aaron Sarnowski, co-owner of St. Joe Hydro and communications director of the local NORML chapter.

McCourt plans to host different events and fundraisers to integrate NORML into the community. He said the group deliberately called the chapter “Northwest Missouri” to reach a wider audience than St. Joseph.

“We want to reach up into Maryville and try to educate,” he said.

The first meeting attracted a wide variety of people.

“We had people in their 70s; we had people in their 20s,” McCourt said. “We had two attorneys; we had an insurance man.”

NORML Northwest Missouri will hold its next meeting on Sep. 12 at 7 p.m. at D&G Pub & Grub. Anyone interested in joining can attend.

Anyone with questions about NORML can call St. Joe Hydro at 816-273-4076. Sarnowski and McCourt will host a medical marijuana educational class on Aug. 26 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Pure Natural Depot at 24722 Business 71, Maryville.

Jessica Kopp can be reached at jessica.kopp@newspressnow.com.

or you can follow her on Twitter: @NPNOWKopp.