California Passes Law Allowing Seriously Ill Patients to Use Medical Pot in Hospitals
California lawmakers passed a similar law back in 2019, but Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed it. Now, thanks to overwhelming support from activists and advocates, the governor signed the bill into law.
Published on October 1, 2021

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California Governor Gavin Newsom just signed a bill that will allow severely ill patients to use non-smokable medical cannabis in any hospital in the state. 

This new law will require hospitals and other healthcare facilities to allow terminally ill patients to use medical cannabis on their premises. The bill does not allow patients to smoke or vape weed in medical facilities, however. Hospitals will not be required to provide or dispense medical cannabis, so the patients' family or friends will need to procure the medicine for anyone who wishes to use it.

The bill was nicknamed “Ryan's Law” in memory of Ryan Bartell, a US Coast Guard veteran who died from pancreatic cancer in 2018. During his final weeks in the hospital, doctors prescribed Bartell morphine and fentanyl for his pain, which rendered him unconscious and unable to communicate with his visitors. His family attempted to convince doctors to switch his medication from opioids to medical marijuana so that he could remain awake, but the hospital refused to allow weed in their facility.

“It is inconceivable to me that, in a state where medical cannabis was legalized more than 25 years ago, those in deepest suffering receiving treatment in our state’s healthcare facilities cannot access this proven, effective, and prescribed treatment,” said the bill's sponsor, Senator Ben Hueso (D), in a statement. “Instead, terminally-ill patients in California healthcare facilities are given heavy opiates that rob them of their precious last moments with family and friends. This is a simple, yet critical, move that will provide relief, compassion and dignity to terminally-ill Californians.”

Hueso initially proposed an earlier version of this bill in 2019, and it passed the state legislature with strong support. But Governor Newsom ultimately decided to veto the legislation, citing concerns that state hospitals could lose federal funding if they allowed a federally-prohibited drug to be used on their premises.

“Federal law and various industry regulations continue to impede consumers’ rights to use medical and recreational marijuana, in California and elsewhere,” explained California NORML Deputy Director Ellen Komp in a statement

After the surprise veto, Hueso sent a letter to federal health officials asking whether or not the feds would actually strip funding from a hospital just for allowing state-legal medical marijuana use. This summer, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) responded, stating that there are no official federal regulations that specifically address the issue. The agency also said that it has never pulled funding from healthcare facilities that allow medical marijuana use.

“With this confirmation from CMS and the safeguards in the law, we are confident that healthcare facilities have the necessary authority to implement these provisions while ensuring the safety of other patients, guests, and employees of the healthcare facility, compliance with other state laws, and the safe operations of the healthcare facility,” Hueso said.

After receiving the letter, Hueso reintroduced the bill, and it passed again with nearly unanimous support. California NORML collected 750 letters in support of the bill and sent them to Governor Newsom, who finally decided to sign the bill into law this week. 

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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