California Patients Gain End Of Life Medical Cannabis Access

California has granted medical cannabis access to terminally ill patients in healthcare facilities.

On Tuesday, September 28, California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) signed Senate Bill 311, also known as Ryan’s Law, requiring hospitals and certain healthcare facilities to permit terminally ill patients to use medical cannabis for treatment and pain relief.

Senator Hueso introduced a similar bill in 2019, SB 305, which gained approval from the Senate and the Assembly but not Governor Newsom.

Newsom declined to sign SB 305 out of a fear that facilities might lose federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) funding.

According to Senator Hueso, CMS has confirmed that Medicare and Medicaid regulations do not address medical cannabis use and is not aware of providers that have been penalized or lost funding for it.

Additionally, CMS says it would not cite healthcare facilities that allow medical cannabis use unless the United States Department of Justice makes an adverse finding.

SB 311 includes a safe harbor clause that allows facilities to suspend compliance if a federal agency begins enforcement action or signals it would enforce federal cannabis laws.

Ryan’s Law

Ryan’s Law is named for United States Coast Guard veteran Ryan Bartell, who passed away in 2018 from pancreatic cancer.

The California native spent his final weeks in a hospital on a regimen of morphine and fentanyl, which kept him sedated.

According to a press release from SB 311 author Senator Ben Hueso (D-San Diego), Ryan’s family attempted to introduce medical cannabis into his treatment plan but were told that it was not permitted.

Ryan’s family wanted to give him medical cannabis so he could stay awake and visit with family and friends during his last days.

After searching for weeks, Ryan’s family found a facility that allowed medical cannabis use.

In the last few weeks of Ryan’s life, he was able to experience a quality of life that the first hospital did not allow.

“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,” says Senator Hueso. “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.”

Compassionate Use of Cannabis

Senator Hueso says that SB 311 ensures that patients and families do not have to endure pain and heartbreak as Ryan’s family did.

Ryan’s father, Jim Bartell, says medical cannabis had a positive impact on his son’s well-being during his last days of fighting stage-4 pancreatic cancer, as opposed to the harsh effects of opiates.

“Medical cannabis is an excellent option for relieving pain and suffering in those who are terminally-ill, but most importantly, it serves to provide compassion, support, and dignity to patients and their families, during their loved ones’ final days,” says Bartell. “Looking at each other, holding Ryan’s hand and telling him how much I loved him during his final moments would not have been possible without the medical cannabis.”

SB 311 does not require healthcare facilities to provide or dispense medical cannabis, but it does call on them to reasonably restrict how patients store and use medical cannabis to ensure the safety of employees, guests, and other patients.

The bill does not apply to emergency care patients and prohibits smoking and vaping.

“With this confirmation from CMS and the safeguards in the law,” says Senator Hueso. “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.”