California docs: ‘Stop denying organs to marijuana patients’

David Downs, San Francisco Chronicle

California’s leading medical body voted unanimously over the weekend to help end the practice of denying organ transplants to patients based solely on their lawful medical cannabis use.

The California Medical Association (CMA) House of Delegates in San Diego voted Saturday on Resolution 116-14 to urge transplant clinics in the state against removing patients from organ transplant lists simply because they were recommended cannabis by a physician.

One in 20 California adults have used medical cannabis for serious condition, and denying transplants to patients who do so is common in the state at hospitals like Cedars-Sinai, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), University of California San Francisco, and Stanford Medical School, reports indicate.

Advocacy group Americans for Safe Access said Californians who lawfully use cannabis are dying from denied transplants. Patients on transplant lists are drug-tested while waiting for an organ, and often learn only after they’ve been denied an organ that testing positive for or reporting marijuana use disqualified them.

The CMA resolution opposes “utilization of marijuana use and positive cannabis toxicology tests as a contraindication for potential organ transplant recipients,” and calls on using “evidence-based medical findings to guide any alterations in this CMA policy.”

Marijuana “is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man”, Drug Enforcement Administration judge Francis Young found in 1988. Liver transplant recipients who used pot survived at similar rates to those who don’t, the CMA notes. Twenty-three states have medical marijuana and those laws are associated with a 25 percent decrease in deaths from conventional prescription painkillers.

However, the federal government considers cannabis a schedule 1 drug with no medical uses and a high potential for abuse. Organ transplant clinics defer to federal law.

The CMA resolution comes as the California legislature considers introducing a bill to block transplant clinics from rejecting patients based on their medical marijuana use.

“I am very proud of my colleagues at the CMA, who once again endorsed the principle that medical decision for the benefit of patients be based on science and not moralistic prejudices,” stated Dr. Larry Bedard, a retired Marin General Hospital emergency physician and 30-year CMA delegate who currently serves on its Marijuana Technical Advisory Committee.