California Lawmakers Introduce Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act

California medical marijuana patients are prescribed the drug because they are sick. Yet, because they take the drug, they may be barred from certain life-saving treatments – namely, organ transplant.
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This is an especially cruel twist of law, one that some California legislators hope to rectify with Assembly Bill 258, also called the Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act.

Introduced by Assembly member Marc Levine (D-San Rafael), the measure is sponsored by the pro-marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access.

This is a measure that has very real implications for those afflicted with serious illness. Take, for example, the case of Norman B. Smith. The 63-year-old from Los Angeles was diagnosed with a form of inoperable liver cancer was prescribed medicinal marijuana to help him cope with the horrific pain and other side effects of chemotherapy. A year after he was diagnosed, he became eligible to receive a liver transplant. However, when Smith tested positive for marijuana, he was promptly removed from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s liver transplant list. Although his cancer was in remission for a time after that, it came back with force. He never did get that transplant, and he died in 2012.

While federal law does still classify marijuana as a dangerous, illegal drug with no recognized medical benefit, the vast majority of those in the health care field acknowledge this is not an accurate description. It may still be illegal at the federal level, but U.S. prosecutors have largely stopped pursuing cases in states that have legalized it or approved it for medical use. Additionally, hospitals like Cedars-Sinai would be breaking no laws by allowing medical cannabis patients to undergo such life-saving procedures.

AB 258 would specifically bar health care organizations, hospitals, surgeons or doctors from determining the recipient of an “anatomical gift” solely on the basis of the recipient’s status as a qualified medical marijuana patient or on the basis of a qualified patient testing positive for THC.

Already, there are laws in place that prohibit these entities from deciding organ transplant recipients on the basis of physical or mental disabilities.

Assembly member Levine called the current health policies that label medical marijuana patients as abusers of drugs “arcane.”

Not only have patients like Smith died because they were denied necessary organ transplants, there are many more who are currently in peril. Our Los Angeles marijuana lawyers believe what this ultimately boils down to is a form of discrimination. It’s not as if those who ingest medical marijuana are more likely to suffer adverse effects from such a procedure than any one else who takes other drugs to treat serious conditions.

Even the California Medical Association supports the measure. The organization passed a resolution late last year indicating medical marijuana should not be a basis upon which to deny a patient for an organ transplant procedure. As it now stands, Washington state, Arizona, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Illinois and Delaware all have measures expressly protecting qualified medical marijuana patients from discrimination for an organ transplant. It’s time California’s health care providers took a more ethical, humane and medically-sound approach.

The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.

Additional Resources:
AB 258 – Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act, Feb. 9, 2015, Americans for Safe Access
More Blog Entries:
Child Lobbying for Medical Marijuana Suffers Seizure in General Assembly, Feb. 11, 2015, Los Angeles Marijuana Lawyer Blog