California Gov. Gavin Newsom Signs Legislation to Allow Terminally Ill Patients to Use Medical Cannabis for Treatment

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation into law to expand end-of-life treatment and pain relief options for “terminally-ill” patients. 

S.B. 311, also known as “Ryan’s Law,” defines “terminally-ill patients” as individuals with “a medical condition resulting in a prognosis of life of one year or less, if the disease follows its natural course.”

“It is inconceivable to me that, in a state where medical cannabis was legalized more than 25 years ago, those in deepest suffering receiving treatment in our state’s healthcare facilities cannot access this proven, effective, and prescribed treatment,” said Sen. Ben Hueso in a press release. “Instead, terminally-ill patients in California healthcare facilities are given heavy opiates that rob them of their precious last moments with family and friends. This is a simple, yet critical, move that will provide relief, compassion and dignity to terminally-ill Californians.”

Under the legislation, California hospitals and specific medical facilities must allow terminally ill patients to use medical cannabis for pain relief or treatment, according to the release.

Healthcare facilities are not required to dispense medical cannabis from the pharmacy, nor are they required to provide it for patients; however, to ensure guests, patients, and employees’ safety, they must restrict and monitor how patients store and consume the medical cannabis, the law states.

While terminally ill patients can consume medical cannabis, smoking or vaping in the hospital is strictly prohibited.

Ryan’s Law

The legislation is named after Ryan Bartell, former U.S. coast guard and California-native, who passed in 2018 after battling pancreatic cancer. 

According to the release, while Ryan was in the hospital, the family suggested introducing medical cannabis into his treatment plan instead of morphine and fentanyl, but the hospital denied their request. So, his family had to search for a new hospital that would allow Ryan to use medical cannabis. 

S.B. 311 is designed to ensure no patient or family has to go through the hardships Ryan and his family went through, the release states.

“Medical cannabis is an excellent option for relieving pain and suffering in those who are terminally-ill, but most importantly it serves to provide compassion, support, and dignity to patients and their families, during their loved-ones’ final days,” said Jim Bartell, father of Ryan Bartell and sponsor of SB 311, in the release. “Looking at each other, holding Ryan’s hand and telling him how much I loved him during his final moments would not have been possible without the medical cannabis.”

According to the press release, Sen. Hueso introduced a bill similar to SB 311 earlier this year. The legislation was approved by both Houses but vetoed by Newsom due to the worry that healthcare facilities would lose Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) funding if they allow medical cannabis use. However, CMS confirmed that it is unaware of any provider losing funding for allowing medical cannabis use. CMS also said that it would not cite facilities for permitting it unless the U.S. Department of Justice reports otherwise.

“With this confirmation from CMS and the safeguards in the law, we are confident that healthcare facilities have the necessary authority to implement these provisions while ensuring the safety of other patients, guests, and employees of the healthcare facility, compliance with other state laws, and the safe operations of the healthcare facility,” Sen. Hueso said in the release.