The California Medical Association (CMA) voted unanimously this weekend to urge transplant clinics in the state against removing patients from organ transplant lists based on their medical marijuana status or use. The CMA House of Delegates was in San Diego this weekend for its annual meeting, and voted Saturday on Resolution 116-14 in support of patients’ ability to remain on transplant lists despite their medical marijuana use.
The refusal of transplant clinics to place or keep patients on organ transplant lists is a widespread problem in California and other states. Medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which is fighting to reform organ transplant policies in California, has received numerous reports of such actions at hospitals across the state, including Cedars-Sinai, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), University of California San Francisco, and Stanford Medical School.
The CMA resolution opposes “utilization of marijuana use and positive cannabis toxicology tests as a contraindication for potential organ transplant recipients,” and calls on using “evidence-based medical findings to guide any alterations in this CMA policy.” The resolution was authored by Delegates Jordan Apfeld, Nuriel Moghavem, Trishna Narula, MPH, and Sarah Smith. ASA also lobbied hard for passage of the resolution in hopes of advancing policy change at the state level.
The CMA resolution comes as the California legislature is considering introducing a bill that would prevent transplant clinics from rejecting patients based on their medical marijuana status or use. As of last week, more than 600 ASA members had signed a petition in support of the proposed Medical Marijuana Organ Transplant Act. ASA estimates that nearly 200 qualified medical marijuana patients need transplants each year.
“I am very proud of my colleagues at the CMA, who once again endorsed the principle that medical decision for the benefit of patients be based on science and not moralistic prejudices,” said Dr. Larry Bedard, a retired Marin General Hospital emergency physician and 30-year CMA delegate who currently serves on its Marijuana Technical Advisory Committee.
In 2011, Cedars-Sinai patient Norman Smith was removed from the hospital’s transplant list, preventing Smith from obtaining to address his inoperable liver cancer because he tested positive for marijuana use, despite a recommendation for its use from his oncologist. Cedars-Sinai demanded that Smith abstain from medical marijuana use for six months and attend drug abuse counselingbefore they would agree to place him back on the transplant list. Smith died in 2012 waiting to be placed back on the transplant list.
More recently, Toni Trujillo, a kidney transplant survivor, was kicked off of Cedars-Sinai’s transplant list in 2012 for her medical marijuana use, and made to satisfy the same requirements as Smith. And earlier this year, Richard Hawthorne was denied a liver transplant by Stanford Medical School, despite the offer by a friend to donate his liver tissue. Medical marijuana advocate Yami Bolanos, an 18-year liver transplant survivor, was told recently by a transplant doctor at UCLA that she would be ineligible for an anticipated second transplant.