On July 7, 2015, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law AB 258, a bill that would protect medical marijuana patients from being excluded in the organ donation process. The bill breezed through both the state Senate and Assembly with a vote of 31-1 and 52-8, respectively.
“AB 258’s passage is the result of ASA’s membership tirelessly work[ing] for over two years,” said Don Duncan, California Director of Americans for Safe Access. “In California legal medical cannabis patients will never again face a choice between their doctor-recommended medicine and a life-saving organ transplant.”
Under the new law:
“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.”
One person that will greatly benefit from the passage of this bill is medical marijuana patient Justin Turley. For 13 years, Turley suffered from cirrhosis of the liver and medical marijuana was the only thing that enabled him to live a somewhat normal life.
When Turley’s doctors told him that he would need a liver transplant, he revealed to his evaluating physician that he was a medical marijuana patient. The physician told him that if he was to continue to use medical marijuana, he would not be able to receive an organ transplant.
“It’s incredibly unfair that people who are following the rules, who are deathly ill and trying to relieve their symptoms, are suddenly denied an organ transplant,” Assemblymember Marc Levine told The Huffington Post. “There’s no medical reason why these patients should be stigmatized or denied a life-saving opportunity.”
Previously, there was no California law in place that specifically banned medical marijuana patients from receiving organ transplants; instead, the discrimination stemmed from hospitals and physicians, many of whom believe medical marijuana could complicate the surgery.
However, a 2008 study published in the American Journal of Transplantation found that medical marijuana patients who received liver transplants did not have higher mortality rates. With the passage of AB 258, Turley will now be able to get on the transplant list.
While AB 258 is a huge victory for California patients, medical marijuana patients across the nation still face discrimination because of their patient status. For example, in 2008 medical marijuana patient Timothy Garon died while trying to convince his hospital to put him on the transplant list.
For many in the industry, the fight for marijuana reform starts and ends with legalization, but if the cases of Justin Turley and Timothy Garon are any indication, the fight is long from over.