New Law Let’s Medical Marijuana Smokers Get Organ Transplants

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Americans for Safe Access (ASA) estimates that 1,150 Californians on organ transplant lists use medical marijuana. That was hazardous to their health until a few days ago.

The danger was being kicked off the list for smoking marijuana. It happened to Norman B. Smith in 2011, two weeks away from a liver transplant, and it killed him the next year. But it shouldn’t happen to anyone else.

Assembly Bill 258—co-sponsored by the ASA, passed overwhelmingly in the Legislature and signed recently by Governor Brown—prevents hospitals from denying transplants to candidates based on their use of medical marijuana. In Smith’s case, his oncologist had prescribed the drug for his liver cancer.

When he introduced the bill, California State Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael), said, “Arcane public health policies view medical cannabis patients as drug abusers.” Now they don’t, joining Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Washington, which have similar laws.  

Smith’s experience at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles was the first to generate media exposure but he was quickly joined by another Cedars reject. Toni Trujillo was on the list for six years and moved from Pennsylvania for the last two years of treatment before being delisted in 2012.

Yami Bolanos, 58, was reportedly told she would be ineligible for a re-transplant of her 18-year-old kidney by the same doctor at the University of California, San Francisco that recommended she use medical marijuana. The Santa Monica resident is also president of the Greater Los Angeles Collective Association (GLACA), a group of medical cannabis cooperatives.

Richard Hawthorne, who has hepatitis-C and cirrhosis of the liver, was denied a transplant by Stanford Medical Center last year, although a friend volunteered to be a donor. 

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 fungus is considered a threat to people with suppressed immune function and a serious problem for people following transplants. But the legislative analysis written for the Senate noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) downplayed the threat and pointed  out that people are exposed to it every day in the air they breathe.  

The analysis also cited a study published in the American Journal of Transplantation, that cannabis use by patients undergoing transplants does not adversely impact survival rates.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Jerry Brown Signs Protection for Pot Smokers Seeking Organ Transplants (by David Siders, Sacramento Bee)

California State Assembly Passes the Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act (by Christopher Brown, Americans for Safe Access)

Bill Would Ban Organ Transplant Bias Against Legal Pot Smokers (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Marijuana Use in Potential Liver Transplant Candidates (American Journal of Transplantation)

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