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California Governor Signs Bill To Allow Medical Marijuana Use In Hospitals For Severely Ill Patients

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The governor of California on Tuesday signed a bill to require hospitals to permit medical marijuana use by certain patients.

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) approved the legislation, signaling that his prior concerns about an earlier version that he reluctantly vetoed in 2019 have since been resolved.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ben Hueso (D), has been pushing for his measure to allow cannabis use in medical facilities for terminally ill patients over multiple sessions. He recently sent a letter to the head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) seeking clarification on whether the policy change could jeopardize federal funding for those facilities.

“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,” Hueso said in a press release.

“Instead, terminally-ill patients in California healthcare facilities are given heavy opiates that rob them of their precious last moments with family and friends,” he said. “This is a simple, yet critical, move that will provide relief, compassion and dignity to terminally-ill Californians.”

Confusion about possible implications for permitting marijuana consumption in health facilities led to Newsom’s 2019 veto decision. Representatives from both HHS and the governor’s office have recently reached out to Hueso to say that they were continuing to look into the matter.

Hueso received a letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) several months ago stating that there are no federal regulations in place that specifically address this issue and that the agency isn’t aware of any cases where funding has been pulled because a hospital allows patients to use medical cannabis.

“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,” the senator said.

There are some restrictions embedded in the new law. For example, patients receiving treatment for emergency care wouldn’t be covered, and smoking and vaping marijuana would be prohibited. It also stipulates that hospitals aren’t required to provide or dispense cannabis.

Newsom didn’t release a statement about the hospitals bill, which his office announced he signed along with more than two dozen other pieces of unrelated legislation.

The legislation was partly inspired by the experience of a father whose son died from cancer and was initially denied access to cannabis at a California hospital. Jim Bartell did eventually find a facility that agreed to allow the treatment, and he has said his son’s quality of life improved dramatically in those last days.


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“In the invaluable last days as Ryan fought stage 4 pancreatic cancer, I first-handedly experienced the positive impact medical cannabis had on my son’s well-being, as opposed to the harsh effects of opiates,” Bartell said. “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.”

“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,” he said.

Also pending on Newsom’s desk is a bill to set up a regulatory framework for hemp-derived CBD sales that also removes the ban on smokable hemp products.

Separately, a California bill that passed the Senate and several Assembly committees to legalize possession of a wide range of psychedelics such as psilocybin and ayahuasca has stalled following a decision by the sponsor that more time is needed to build the case for the reform and solidify its chances of being enacted.

Meanwhile, California activists have also recently been cleared to begin collecting signatures for a 2022 ballot initiative to legalize psilocybin mushrooms in the state.

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Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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