California is on track to become the first US state that will require hospitals to allow terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana for end-of-life care.
Last month, the California State Legislature approved Senate Bill No. 305, which prohibits healthcare facilities from interfering with terminally ill patients who wish to use medical cannabis on their grounds. The bill prevents patients from smoking or vaping weed inside these facilities, however. Healthcare facilities are also allowed to draft their own rules regarding safe storage of medical marijuana products.
The bill is named “Ryan's Law” in honor of Ryan Bartell, who died from stage 4 pancreatic cancer last year. During the last months of his life, Bartell used morphine and fentanyl to manage the pain associated with his illness, but these drugs left him too sedated to talk to his 9-year-old son or other visitors. Ryan's father, Jim, eventually moved him into a facility that allowed medical marijuana.
After switching to medical cannabis, Ryan was able to reduce his use of morphine, allowing him to spend his final weeks actively saying his goodbyes to friends and family. Ryan passed away on April 21, 2018, but his father was inspired to create a bill that would allow any terminally ill Californian to take advantage of the therapeutic powers of cannabis.
After four months of research and drafting, Jim drew up the first draft of “Ryan's Law,” which he brought to state Senator Ben Hueso, who agreed to bring the bill before the Legislature. The California Hospital Association initially opposed the bill over concerns that the federal government would cut their funding if they allowed cannabis on the premises. To assuage these fears, lawmakers added a “safe harbor” clause allowing hospitals to suspend their medical marijuana programs in the event of a federal crackdown.
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“Ryan’s Law offers relief, compassion, and dignity to Californians during the most vulnerable time of their lives,” said Sen. Hueso in a statement. “This is a simple but critical step that will have an abundance of benefits to ensure access to compassion and pain management for terminally-ill patients in California.”
The state Senate unanimously approved the bill in September, and it has now moved to the desk of pro-cannabis Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is expected to sign it. If he does, the bill will take effect on January 1st of next year.
Although he has likely succeeded in bringing Ryan's Law to the Golden State, Jim Bartell is not content to rest on his laurels. Jim told Leafly that he plans to bring the bill to other states where medical marijuana is legal, starting with nearby Oregon and Washington. The main language of the bill can remain the same, but fine details will have to be amended to comply with each state's laws and health codes.