CMA opposes denying organ transplants for legal medical cannabis patients

CMA logoCorrection (12/09/2014) - The original version of this blog contained links to an old version of the CMA resolution. The links here have been updated with the amended version, as approved on Saturday.

The California Medical Association (CMA) made a major decision about medical cannabis today that could reduce needless suffering and preventable death for legal patients who need organ transplants. The CMA House of Delegates voted unanimously to approve Resolution 114-16, which declares that the CMA opposes using cannabis use as grounds for denying an organ transplant.  

This is an important and timely victory for some of the sickest medical cannabis patients in California. Legal medical cannabis patients are routinely denied a place on the national organ transplant waiting list or removed from the list when they test positive for cannabis use. These patients face a terrible dilemma: forgo the proven benefits of medical cannabis use or miss out on a potentially life-saving transplant. Patients using doctor-recommended cannabis to treat chronic pain, cancer, HIV/AIDS, Multiple Sclerosis, and other serious conditions should never have to make that choice.

Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the nation’s leading medical cannabis patients’ advocacy organization, estimates that as many as 200 legal patients need organ transplants each year. ASA is proposing the Medical Marijuana Organ Transplant Act, which would prevent patients from being denied an organ transplant based solely on their medical cannabis use. 644 ASA members signed a petition in support of the bill as of last week, and lawmakers will decide soon whether or not to introduce the bill. The CMA decision should help persuade them to stand up for this small, but vulnerable, population.

This resolution is a big win for real patients who are denied equal access to health care as a result of their medical cannabis use. ASA member Norman Smith lawfully used medical cannabis as part of his treatment for liver cancer. He was removed from the waiting list by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after testing positive for medical cannabis use in 2011. Program policies required that he test negative for medical cannabis for six months before requesting a new place on the list. Sadly, Mr. Smith died before he could be placed back on the list, a tragic and avoidable loss of life.

Unfortunately, Mr. Smith is not alone. Toni Trujillo was denied a life-saving kidney transplant at Cedars-Sinai the following year based on her cannabis use, which the transplant center called “substance abuse.” And Yami Bolanos, 59, an eighteen-year liver transplant survivor, was warned that she would be ineligible for an anticipated second transplant by a doctor at UCLA – despite the fact that her doctor recommended medical cannabis use. Richard Hawthorne, another patient in need of a liver, was denied a transplant by Stanford Medical School this year, despite a friend offering to be a donor. 

It is difficult to determine how many other potential recipients have already suffered needlessly or even died as a result of the outdated polices barring medical cannabis use for recipients of organ transplants. ASA cannot intervene in every case individually, and tragically, many victims may be suffering or dying in anonymity. Timely legislative action is required to prevent unnecessary suffering or another tragedy.

The CMA is the voice of the medical profession in California and one of the most respected and influential lobbyist organizations in Sacramento. The CMA House of Delegates convenes annually to debate and act on resolutions and reports dealing with myriad medical practice, public health and CMA governance issues. Resolution 114-16 was introduced by Delegate Jordan Apfeld and co-authored by Delegates Nuriel Moghavem, Trishna Narula, MPH, Sarah Smith Smith.

ASA applauds the CMA’s compassionate stance on medical cannabis, and we are looking forward to working with CMA members in 2015 to pass legislation protecting legal patients and increasing overall organ transplant survival rates.

Click here to read ASA’s letter to CMA House of Delegates.