Dear Pot Lawyer,
OHSU won’t put my daughter on the liver transplant list because she uses medicinal CBD. Why not?
Last weekend I took an Uber to the airport to attend a conference down in California. As so often happens, the driver asked me what I do, and was immediately filled with questions about life as a pot lawyer. She also shared a heartbreaking story with me. The driver’s daughter, who I will call “Jane,” has a genetic liver disease and will likely need a transplant in the near future. Jane currently medicates this condition with CBD, and as a result, OHSU has declined to place Jane on the transplant list. Jane expects to have to travel to California when the time comes. Jane’s mother was understandably frustrated by the situation and asked the Mercury to investigate.
The nation’s organ network program is managed by a non-profit organization called the United Network for Organ Sharing, which does not have any official policy preventing transplants for medical cannabis users. The decision is ultimately left up to each individual hospital, and the approaches vary dramatically. Some hospitals have an outright ban; some address it on a case-by-case basis; and a select few recognize that medical cannabis patients should not be placed in the same category as alcoholics or other addicts.
Options in Oregon are extremely limited, as only two Oregon institutions perform liver transplants: OHSU, and the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Although it won’t be much help to patients like Jane, OHSU loosened its cannabis ban in 2012. Prior to 2012, a patient had to pass six months of drug screenings before being waitlisted. OHSU took a small step in the right direction, allowing individuals who fail a single drug screen to join the waitlist if they stop consuming. This helps the casual weekend user, but does nothing to help patients who use medical cannabis to treat chronic conditions.
While OHSU’s current medicinal cannabis policy is not publicly available, Jane’s story suggests that the 2012 policy is still in effect. It is unfortunate that Oregon, the first state to decriminalize cannabis, lags so far behind the times on this issue. In contrast, California has taken an important step toward protecting cannabis patients. In 2015, California passed the Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act. This act provides that a physician or hospital cannot make waiting list determinations based solely on medical cannabis consumption, unless there is a finding by both a physician and a surgeon that the medical cannabis consumption would be relevant to the health of the patient or success of the operation.
For the time being, Oregonians like Jane will need to travel to states like California—and hope that their doctors determine, on a case-by-case basis, that medical cannabis users should be just as entitled to life-saving treatment as anyone else.
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