California State Assembly member Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) has introduced AB 258, the Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act, a bill aimed at preventing medical marijuana patients from being unduly denied organ transplants. The Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act issponsored by Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which has long advocated for patients seeking organ transplants, including Norman B. Smith, a medical marijuana patient who died in 2012 after being denied a liver transplant at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Specifically, AB 258 states that, “A hospital, physician and surgeon, procurement organization, or other person shall not determine the ultimate recipient of an anatomical gift based solely upon a potential recipient’s status as a qualified patient…or based solely on a positive test for the use of medical marijuana by a potential recipient who is a qualified patient.” The bill simply establishes the same protections that currently exist for other transplant candidates with mental or physical disabilities.
“Arcane public health policies view medical cannabis patients as drug abusers,” said Assembly member Levine in a prepared statement. “Too often, patients are denied a life-saving organ transplant solely because they are prescribed medical cannabis. These patients have died after being dropped from the list, and many more are in jeopardy right now. This legislation will save lives by ensuring medical cannabis patients are not discriminated against in the organ transplant process.”
The bill’s introduction comes less than two months after the California Medical Association adopted a resolution stating that medical marijuana should not be used as a criteria for denying organ transplants. Laws already exist in Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Washington that explicitly protect qualified patients from discrimination when seeking organ transplants.
According to ASA, several patients have reported being denied organ transplants in California over the past few years, including patients at UCLA Medical Center, Standford Medical School, UCSF Medical Center, and Cedars-Sinai. Most transplant centers will disqualify patients from receiving organ transplants or refuse to place them on a waiting list unless they test negative for marijuana for 6 months and take drug abuse counseling for the same period of time. Smith was attempting to comply with Cedars’ policy when he died.
Without national guidelines, transplant centers like those in California are left to design their own policies, most of which discriminate against medical marijuana patients say advocates. Medical centers have also refused to change their policies despite being urged to do so in the case of Smith and Toni Trujillo, another Cedars-Sinai patient seeking a kidney transplant. After being on a waiting list for 6 years, Cedars-Sinai de-listed Trujillo because her medical marijuana use was considered “substance abuse.”
“Denying organ transplants to otherwise eligible medical marijuana patients is the worst kind of discrimination,” said ASA California Director Don Duncan. “The Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act will stop legal patients in California from being denied organ transplants and will bring the state’s policies up to date with a growing body of scientific evidence,” continued Duncan. “It’s time to change these punitive policies, and we look forward to working with the legislature to get that done.”
Patients being summarily removed from transplants lists is not just a problem in California, occurring in other medical marijuana states like Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington. In 2008, Seattle resident and medical marijuana patient Timothy Garon died after being denied a liver transplant by the University of Washington Medical Center. A year later, in 2009, Big Island resident and medical marijuana patient Kimberly Reyes died at Hilo Hospital after being denied a liver transplant.