Gov. Newsom Signs Bills to Protect Medical Marijuana Patients, Considers Others

UPDATED 9/6/2022

Gov. Newsom has signed a bill (AB 1954 – Quirk) to protect the right of patients to medical treatment if they use marijuana, and the right of physicians and clinics to treat them. The bill was sponsored by Cal NORML and co-sponsored by Americans for Safe Access.

“Many physicians are under the mistaken impression that they can’t prescribe medication to patients who test positive for cannabis,” said Dale Gieringer, Director of Cal NORML. In California, many health plans, health systems, and hospitals require patients to sign agreements not to use illicit or controlled substances for the duration of their prescribed opioid treatment and agree to drug testing. The new law clarifies that physicians cannot be punished for treating patients who use cannabis, notwithstanding its illicit status under federal law.

Cal NORML regularly hears from patients who are terminated from pain management medications on account of their use of medical cannabis. An online survey with nearly 600 respondents found that 18.5% have been denied prescription medications by a doctor due to their cannabis use.

A great many studies have shown cannabis is effective for pain, and can help patients reduce their use of opiates. Our survey shows that 24-30% of respondents have increased their use of opiates or other medications due to drug testing by their doctor or employer.

The California Medical Association House of Delegates adopted a resolution in 2019 condemning the automatic elimination of patients who use medicinal cannabis from pain management programs. AB 1954 would specify that a positive drug test for cannabis should not in itself be the sole basis for denying medical treatment to a patient absent a medically significant reason. “It is irresponsible and unethical for pain management programs to eliminate patients who are using medical cannabis for their chronic pain, because there is conclusive scientific evidence that cannabis is a safe and effective treatment for chronic pain,” said Larry A. Bedard, a Marin-based physician who authored the CMA resolution.

“I’m so happy this bill has passed. Patients can’t wait any longer,” said Yami Bolanos, a patient and advocate from Los Angeles who was instrumental in the passage of AB 258 (Levine; 2015), ending discrimination against organ transplant patients who use cannabis in California.

The Governor has also signed:

• A bill Cal NORML supported, Sen. Hueso’s update to Ryan’s Law, SB 988. That law allows terminally ill patients to use cannabis in certain healthcare facilities, but hospitals were resisting implementing the law, claiming a federal conflict, which has been addressed in SB 988.

AB 2595 (Jones-Sawyer) would require the State Department of Social Services to treat a parent’s use of cannabis in the same manner as alcohol or legally prescribed medication.

Also see: Gov. Newsom Signs Bill to Protect Employment Rights of Cannabis Consumers, Other Reform Measures


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