California Bill would allow terminally ill patients to use cannabis in hospitals

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California cannabis activists gathered with state Sen. Ben Hueso in front of a state government building in downtown San Diego on Friday to garner support for Senate Bill 305, The Compassionate Access to Cannabis Act. If passed, the bill would allow terminally ill patients with a doctor’s authorization to use cannabis medications in health care facilities.

SB 305 was introduced by Democrat Hueso in February and is scheduled for a hearing by a Senate committee next week. The bill is also known as Ryan’s Law, in honor of Ryan Bartell, who died of pancreatic cancer last year at the age of 42. After his diagnosis, Bartell was placed in a Washington health care facility where he was given high doses of opiates to relieve his pain. Wishing to treat him with cannabis instead, Bartell’s family was informed that the facility he was at did not permit cannabis medications. With assistance from Nurse Heather Manus of the Cannabis Nurses Network, the Bartell family was able to move Ryan to a different facility and begin using cannabis medications.

“He was able to be alert instead of just on morphine and just being out,” Nurse Heather told High Times. “He was actually able to spend those last days alert, pain-free, with his family and really had that quality of life during his end of life care.”

The Compassionate Access to Cannabis Act was written largely by Jim Bartell, Ryan’s father, in hopes that other patients and families will not need to suffer through the effects of narcotics and have the opportunity to cherish every moment they have with their loved ones.

Many hospitals and other health care facilities prohibit the use of cannabis medications because of the federal Drug-Free Workplace Act, which requires institutions that receive federal funds to prohibit the use and distribution of controlled substances. Ryan’s Law allows patients who are at the end of life to use cannabis medications with a doctor’s approval and gives health care facilities the authority to implement a policy to allow cannabis use while ensuring the safety of other patients and hospital staff and guests.

Ken Sobel, an attorney who helped Jim Bartell write Ryan’s Law, says that the bill can help take away the stigma still associated with cannabis as medicine.

“It’s extremely important because it brings into the mainstream something that has been essentially prohibited, which is to integrate what we know about how effective cannabis medicine can be and the rights of patients to use it, even in a healthcare facility,” Sobel said.

He also noted that the bill, if passed, will require health care facilities to establish a cannabis medicine policy proactively.

“It requires healthcare facilities to adopt regulations in advance, so when a family arrives, we have a roadmap and not something more to add to their grief over the medical condition of their loved one,” said Sobel.

The Senate Committee on Health will hold a hearing on the The Compassionate Access to Cannabis Act on April 10 at the state Capitol in Sacramento.

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