Twelve California Lawmakers Introduce Bill Allowing Terminally-Ill Patients to Access Medical Cannabis in Healthcare Facilities

“Ryan’s Law” would provide compassionate access for those most in need during end-of-life care
February 04, 2021

SACRAMENTO – Senator Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) was joined by 11 of his colleagues today in introducing a bill to provide compassionate access to medical cannabis in healthcare facilities for Californians who are terminally ill. Senate Bill No. 311, known as “Ryan’s Law,” would require that hospitals and certain types of healthcare facilities in the State of California allow a terminally-ill patient to use medical cannabis for treatment and/or pain relief.

Due to the federal Drug-Free Workplace Act, which requires any institution receiving federal funds or grants to prohibit the use or distribution of “controlled substances” in the workplace, hospitals across the country have adopted policies prohibiting cannabis on their grounds. This means that, despite the state’s approval of medical cannabis use for adults and children, and legalized recreational use for adults, California patients are currently unable to continue taking medical cannabis as part of their treatment plan while in the hospital – even if they possess a valid physicians’ recommendation.

Ryan’s Law seeks to close that gap by allowing those who most need compassion at the end of life to have access to medical cannabis in an in-patient setting. The bill would authorize a healthcare facility to reasonably restrict the manner in which a patient stores and uses medical cannabis to ensure the safety of other patients, guests, and employees of the healthcare facility. It does not apply to patients receiving emergency care, and smoking and vaping cannabis is expressly prohibited. Ryan’s Law also provides a safe harbor clause allowing healthcare facilities to suspend the program if there is federal intervention.

“Hospitals are caught in the disjoint between state and federal medical cannabis laws and, as a result, patients suffer,” said Sen. Hueso. “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.”

Research has shown that medical cannabis possesses medicinal properties that can benefit a range of health conditions. It is most commonly used for pain relief, and is also used to improve appetite and reduce nausea. In certain cases it can be used as an alternative to heavy pain relievers like fentanyl and morphine.

“Terminally-ill patients deserve to spend their last days with as much quality of life as possible,” said Jim Bartell, Ryan’s father and sponsor of SB 311. “They are dying. Why wouldn’t we want that for them?”

Sen. Hueso is joined by a strong, bipartisan group of 11 coauthors: Sen. Steven Bradford, Sen. Anna Caballero, Sen. Brian Jones, Sen. Melissa Melendez, Sen. Scott Wiener, Asm. Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, Asm. Wendy Carrillo, Asm. Cristina Garcia, Asm. Lorena Gonzalez, Asm. Jim Wood, and Asm. Phil Ting.

Ryan’s Law Background:

Ryan Bartell was just 41 years old when he was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in 2018. He immediately sought conventional treatments of chemotherapy but the cancer had spread throughout his body. He was given strong opioids – morphine and fentanyl – for his pain management, which mainly put him to sleep. A close family friend recommended medical cannabis and the changes were remarkable. Ryan was alert and speaking to his family and friends.

However, this was short lived because terminally-ill patients in deep suffering who are receiving care in healthcare facilities are denied access to medical cannabis. Ryan’s family was forced to search for weeks for a facility that would allow him to use his medical cannabis to help manage his pain effectively. Finally, after weeks of searching, a facility in Washington allowed Ryan to continue using his medical cannabis. Sadly, he only lived a few more short weeks.

“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.

“This bill will provide relief not only for those who are terminally ill but also for their family members who are enduring their struggle together,” said Sen. Hueso. “Had this bill been in place a few years ago, Ryan and his family could have fully enjoyed every last hour of those precious weeks together.”