Ryan’s Law: Medical Cannabis as Form of Dignity and Empowerment in the 21st Century

California took one step closer to making medical cannabis accessible to hospitalized, terminally-ill patients. Led by State Senator Ben Hueso, the California State Assembly voted 57-1 to approve the bill on September 9, and the Senate approved the other chamber’s amendments in a 36-1 vote the next day, according to High Times

This bill, the Compassionate Access to Medical Cannabis Act, or Ryan’s Law, would “require specified types of health care facilities from prohibiting or interfering with to allow a terminally ill patient’s use of medicinal cannabis within the health care facility, subject to certain restrictions” and “ would require a patient to provide the health care facility with a copy of their medical marijuana card or written documentation that the use of medicinal cannabis is recommended by a physician.” 

The backstory to this law is sad and instructive. The law is named after Ryan James Bartell, a San Diego native who died April 21, 2018, after what his obituary describes as a “brief but brave battle” with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Towards the end, Ryan was reduced to living in a semi-conscious state due to his reliance on large doses of morphine and fentanyl to keep his pain at bay. Ryan became despondent that his last days on earth were slipping away in an opioid haze. 

medical cannabis
Ryan Bartell Source: cannabislaw.report

As a result, he asked his father, Jim Bartell, to find a way to get him off the painkillers. Unable to secure the use of medical cannabis in his current medical setting, Jim Bartell opted to get his son transferred to a hospital that allowed cannabis use in the neighboring state of Washington, which allowed Ryan to use medical cannabis instead of opioids.

As reported by The North Coast Journal, the results were staggering: “Within a day of starting a regimen with a cannabis tincture, Ryan Bartell was reportedly alert, talkative and relatively free of pain.” This allowed Jim Bartell to spend the next two weeks visiting with his son and family and allowed Ryan to catch up with friends and relatives on the phone.

This ultimately led Jim Bartell to work with Senator Hueso to advocate for future patients who faced similar circumstances and wished to take back control of their last days on earth. 

In reality, this law has been evolving for some time. As reported by Cannabis Law Report, “This is not the first time Ryan’s Law has had to pass the California legislature. The first iteration of Ryan’s Law was approved unanimously by the California State Assembly in 2019 but vetoed by Governor Newsom.  California hospitals voiced at the time that neither the Governor nor the legislature could offer absolute protection from the theoretical risks involved with enacting the law.”

However, the California legislature now feels the language of the law allows for hospitals to proceed without worries of legal recriminations, and expert reviewers have lent validity and credulity to the legislation. Dr. Donald Lyman, the 35 year Senior Civil Physician at the California Department of Public Health testified regarding the role of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, stating:“…they (CMS) have no regulatory mechanism for penalizing medical facilities regarding cannabis use.  Nor is there any record of the CMS ever penalizing a facility for [medical] cannabis use.”

Senator Hueso put it plainly, yet eloquently: “For too long, Californians have been denied access in healthcare facilities to medical cannabis-related treatment methods, despite research demonstrating it to have innumerable benefits. As a result, individuals have been subjugated to unnecessary trials of pain and suffering. This is a simple yet critical step, which will have an abundance of benefits to ensure access to compassion and pain management for terminally-ill patients in California.”

Hopefully, Ryan’s battle for dignity will sweep the nation, as more hospitals and state governments realize the potential for marijuana to not only help people who are terminally ill, but who struggle with pain and want an option that is free from the scourge of opioids. Really, what is need is for our federal government to take marijuana off the Schedule I drugs list, but that may be years away. 

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