State legislators, including North Coast Assemblyman Jim Wood, are reintroducing a bill that would require hospitals and healthcare facilities to allow terminally ill patients access to certain forms of medical cannabis.
Known as Ryan’s Law, the Senate Bill 311 is named for late San Diego resident Ryan Bartell, who died in April of 2018, just weeks after being diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He was 41.
His father, Jim Bartell, pushed for the law after facing an uphill battle to find a facility that would allow his son to use cannabis, in the end taking Ryan to a care center in Washington where he was able to once again engage with his family after being relieved of the clouded condition caused by his heavy pain medication.
“My hope is that my saddest moment will be made less painful by ensuring that Ryan’s Law will allow thousands of other terminally-ill patients to live their final days with the quality and dignity that he was able to experience by using medical cannabis instead of sleep-inducing opioids like fentanyl,” said Jim Bartell, who is sponsoring the legislation, in a news release.
A previous version of the bill
also authored by Sen. Ben Hueso, a democrat from San Diego, passed both houses back in 2019 but Gov. Gavin Newsom “begrudgingly” vetoed
the legislation, citing concerns about hospital funding due to the federal prohibition on cannabis use.
"Patients who are hospitalized and facing the end of their days should be provided with relief, compassion and dignity," the governor wrote at the time. "It is inconceivable that the federal government continues to regard cannabis as having no medical value. The federal government's ludicrous stance puts patients and those who care for them in an unconscionable position. Nonetheless, health facilities certified to receive payment from the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services must comply with all federal laws in order to receive federal reimbursement for the services they provide. This bill would create significant conflicts between federal and state law that cannot be taken lightly. Therefore, I begrudgingly veto this bill."
Senate Bill 311, which does not require a hospital or care facility to provide the medication just not to intervene with its use, attempts to alleviate some of those concerns by allowing hospitals to regulate how a patient stores and uses cannabis.
For example, smoking and vaping is prohibited, as is use in emergency care settings. And the bill “provides a safe harbor clause allowing healthcare facilities to suspend the program if there is federal intervention,” according to a news release from Hueso’s office.
“Hospitals are caught in the disjoint between state and federal medical cannabis laws and, as a result, patients suffer,” Hueso said in the release
. “This is an issue not only of compassion, but of patient protection. Patients should be able to access the same medication that they find helpful outside of the hospital while in an inpatient setting, instead of subscribing to different medication regimens depending where they are that day.”
Hueso was joined by Wood and 10 other legislators in introducing Ryan’s Law again.
“We can’t allow a discrepancy in state and federal laws to prevent the compassionate use of medical cannabis for terminally ill patients when medicinal cannabis can improve the quality of their end-of-life care,” Wood said in an email.
Hueso points to research showing that cannabis can aid in pain relief in the place of more invasive treatments which can impact quality of life, such as fentanyl or morphine, as well as other medical conditions, including by improving a patient’s appetite and reducing nausea.
“Terminally-ill patients deserve to spend their last days with as much quality of life as possible,” Jim Bartell said. “They are dying. Why wouldn’t we want that for them?”