Garon, a 56-year-old professional musician who had hepatitis C, died after a University of Washington Medical Center committee denied him a spot on a liver-transplant list. Part of their reason: Garon used medical marijuana—which is legal under Washington law.
Garon wouldn’t have fared any better in Oregon, where medical marijuana has been legal since 1999. Hospitals here refuse to perform transplants on patients who treat their severe pain, nausea and other symptoms under the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program.
The state’s largest transplant program, run jointly by Oregon Health & Science University and the Portland VA Medical Center, turns away patients who use marijuana. Legacy Health System also performs kidney transplants and refuses marijuana users.
Those are the only two transplant programs in the state, leaving Oregon’s medical marijuana patients completely out in the cold.
It’s impossible to say anyone died just because they didn’t get a transplant. But at least 30 Oregonians who use medical weed have died in the past 10 years after hospitals denied them new organs, says Paul Stanford, head of the THC Foundation, a chain of medical-marijuana clinics based in Portland.
“It’s a death sentence,” says Madeline Martinez, head of the Oregon branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “Most of the people have already expired because they didn’t have the transplant.”
Those affected include Jim Klahr, a 56-year-old professional musician from Brookings. He suffers from cirrhosis and hepatitis C, and quit taking medical marijuana in 2004 to qualify for a new liver.
Meanwhile, he lives with crippling nausea that used to vanish with a single puff of smoke. “I’ve capitulated because basically I don’t have much of a choice,” says Klahr, who sits on the 11-member state Advisory Committee on Medical Marijuana.
OHSU doctors also bar marijuana users because of medical concerns, including a higher risk of infection and pulmonary problems. Users of other illegal drugs, drinkers and even tobacco smokers are also barred from getting transplants, but anyone can join once they pass a drug test and meet other requirements.
Dr. William Bennett, head of kidney transplants at Legacy, says those are the same reasons his program bars marijuana users. He and Seely also say patients on mind-altering drugs are less likely to stick with their treatment in the long run, leading to a higher rate of transplant failure.
It amazes me when I read quotes from medical professionals that are so ignorant about cannabis. Take that line “Users of other illegal drugs, drinkers and even tobacco smokers are also barred from getting transplants”. Because those medical marijuana patients are just more “illegal drug users”? They’re just people looking to get high recreationally, like smokers and drinkers?
“Anyone can join once they pass a drug test?” What other legal, doctor-recommended medicines will you be testing for? Lipitor? Xanax? OxyContin? Percocet? Viagra? No, you’ll be testing for coke, meth, heroin, and of course, marijuana.
“Patients on mind-altering drugs are less likely to stick with their treatment?” What, you don’t think OxyContin is mind-altering? Have you ever listened to Rush Limbaugh?
“Risk of infection and pulmonary problems?” Once again, cannabis can be grown organically and taken orally or in vapor form – no infections or lung problems to speak of!
They can wrap it in as many excuses as they want, but these transplant programs simply want to discriminate against cannabis users because they have a moral issue with cannabis.