California State Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) has introduced Senate Bill 305, The Compassionate Access to Cannabis Act (Ryan’s Law). If passed, the bill would allow terminally ill patients to use medicinal cannabis in a hospice facility with a doctor’s authorization. SB 305 was introduced in February and has been amended and passed by the committee. It is currently on the floor for consideration. Advocates including the California Assisted Living Association support passage of the bill.
SB 305 was written and submitted in honor of Ryan Bartell, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2018 at the age of 42. After his diagnosis, Bartell was prescribed high doses of opiates to relieve his pain when he was moved to a Washington facility. Bartell’s family wanted to have Bartell treated with medicinal cannabis, but the facility would not permit any medicinal cannabis. Bartell had to be moved to a different facility to use cannabis for pain management with the assistance of nurse Heather Manus of the Cannabis Nurses Network.
“He was able to be alert instead of just on morphine and just being out,” Manus 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.”
Bartel’s father helped to write The Compassionate Access to Cannabis Act to allow families the choice of medicinal cannabis when a loved one is placed in a hospice facility. Ken Sobel, an attorney who helped Jim Bartell with Ryan’s Law, said that the bill can help take away the stigma still associated with medicinal cannabis.
“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, would require health care facilities to establish a medicinal cannabis 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 federal Drug-Free Workplace Act requires institutions receiving federal funds to prohibit the use and distribution of controlled substances such as cannabis. Many hospitals and other health care facilities will not allow medicinal cannabis due to federal funding since cannabis products with a THC content higher than 0.3 percent remain a Schedule I drug.
Ryan’s Law would allow patients at the end of life to use medicinal cannabis with a doctor’s approval. California hospice facilities would be given the authority to implement a policy to allow medicinal cannabis. The passage of SB 305, as currently written, would not require staff at the hospice facility to store, administer, or assist with the use, but allow access to medicinal cannabis. Hospice facilities located in California would then not violate federal law and risk losing any federal funding.
The Federal and Drug Administration recently released a press release authored by FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. stating, “we’ve seen a growing interest in the development of therapies and other FDA-regulated consumer products derived from cannabis (Cannabis sativa L.) and its components, including cannabidiol (CBD). … Among other things, the FDA requires a cannabis product (hemp-derived or otherwise) that is marketed with a claim of therapeutic benefit to be approved by the FDA for its intended use.”