Norman B. Smith died in 2012 because he smoked marijuana. But it wasn’t the drug that killed him.
Smith was taken off the organ transplant list at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles just weeks before he was to get a new liver because he used medical marijuana. He died within a year.
Last week, California State Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) introduced legislation that would make it illegal for doctors, hospitals or procurement organizations to deny a transplant “based solely” on an applicant being a legal pot smoker.
“Arcane public health policies view medical cannabis patients as drug abusers,” Levine said in a statement. “As a result, too often, patients are denied a life-saving organ transplant solely because they are prescribed medical cannabis.” Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Washington already have similar laws.
Smith, who was diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer, smoked marijuana with the approval of his oncologist at Cedars to ease the side effects of chemotherapy. Before he died, Smith said he hoped publicity surrounding his plight would get the law changed.
But he lived long enough to see Cedars deny a kidney transplant to Toni Trujillo for marijuana use after she had been on the list for six years. Trujillo traveled to California from Pennsylvania for specialized treatment at the medical center. She had been in the state for two years when she was notified by phone that she was being delisted for abusing drugs.
Both Smith and Trujillo say they were told by the hospital that a primary reason for denial was the risk of infection caused by aspergillosis, a genus of common molds frequently seen growing on plants, trees and food. Marijuana dispensaries regularly test for the mold.
The California Medical Association (CMA) voted unanimously (pdf) last December to oppose using medical marijuana as a criterion for selecting organ transplant candidates. The resolution cited the drug’s therapeutic “effects on cancer, appetite, pain control, seizure disorder, and glaucom.” The CMA has not taken a position on the proposed law.