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Equal access to health care for legal medical cannabis patients
Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 258, the Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act on July 6, 2015! AB 258 prohibits discrimination against medical cannabis patients in the organ transplant process, unless a doctor has determined that medical cannabis use is clinically significant to the transplant process. Medical cannabis patients in California have been routinely removed from the organ transplant waiting list if they test positive for cannabis use – even legal doctor-recommended medical cannabis. AB 258 was authored by Assembly member Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) and sponsored by Americans for Safe Access (ASA).
ASA will be reaching out to doctors and hospitals in the Fall and Winter of 2015 and 2016 to educate them about the Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act and the science related to medical cannabis use and organ transplants. See the tabs to the right and below for more information on these topics.
Are you a legal patient who has been denied an organ transplant based on your use of medical cannabis? ASA wants to hear from you. Contact California Director Don Duncan at [email protected] or call (916) 449-3975.
Voters in California adopted the Compassionate Use Act (CUA), known as Proposition 215, in 1996. The initiative removed criminal penalties for cannabis-related crimes for people with a recommendation for medical cannabis use from a doctor. However, according to California Supreme Court case law, the CUA does not protect legal patients from civil liabilities or discrimination based on their medical cannabis use. California patients face pervasive discrimination in employment, housing, parental rights, and access to health care. One of the most tragic examples of this discrimination is seen in cases where patients lawfully using medical cannabis under a doctor’s recommendation are removed from the waiting list for an organ transplant. This can cause unnecessary suffering and hardship, and in some cases, has already resulted in death.
Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is the nation’s leading medical cannabis patients’ advocacy organization. We hold that denying a patient access to an anatomical gift based solely on his or her status as a medical cannabis patient is harmful and unfair. Law-abiding medical cannabis patients should enjoy the same standard of care and access to health care services as everyone else. Because the consequence for denying organ transplants can be severe or lethal, ASA strongly believes that California law should prevent discrimination against medical cannabis patients in determining the recipient of an anatomical gift.
ASA member Norman Smith lawfully used medical cannabis as part of his treatment for liver cancer. He was removed from the Wait 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.” Yami Bolanos, 58, is an eighteen-year liver transplant survivor, who was warned that she would be ineligible for a re- transplant by the same doctor at UCSF that recommended her medical cannabis use. Richard Hawthorne, another patient in need of a liver, was denied a transplant by Stanford Medical School last 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 anatomical gifts. While we cannot intervene in every case individually, and tragically, many victims may be suffering or dying in anonymity, urgent legislative action is required to prevent unnecessary suffering or another tragedy.