Despite the legalization of recreational cannabis in Oregon, cannabis discrimination still exists. Landlords and employers can legally discriminate against cannabis consumers. Sadly, if you’re a medical cannabis patient in need of an organ transplant, transplant centers can discriminate against you as well. But a new Oregon bill, House Bill 2687, aims to change that.
According to the bill summary, if passed, HB-2687 would prohibit transplant centers from recommending that medical cannabis patients be removed from the organ transplant list if they test positive for cannabis. One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Rob Nosse, supported this bill in large part due to the sad struggles of one couple in particular
Last month, Robin Socherman of West Linn testified before the House Committee on Health Care and told her husband’s story. Socherman said that her husband, Jake, has a potentially fatal polycystic kidney disease that has progressed to the point of needing a transplant. She is ready and willing to donate her kidney to him. Unfortunately, Socherman uses medical cannabis to alleviate the suffering brought on by this disease, which has prevented him from being allowed to receive a transplant. “The transplant center was clear that while my husband would not be allowed to use his medical cannabis, he was free to use opiates,” Socherman told the committee. “This seems irrational, considering the current opiate crises in our state and nation.”
Socherman went on to say that after abstaining from using medical cannabis while waiting for his surgery, his suffering became too great, and he began using cannabis again. He then tested positive for cannabis. “While my husband had been told that he was the perfect candidate for transplant, he was kicked out of the program,” she added. “The medical doctor shamed us and treated my husband like a street junkie, telling us how disappointed he was that my husband was a drug user. I couldn’t believe it.”
The hospital where Socherman was treated, Oregon Health & Science University Hospital (OHSU), denies that itdiscriminates based upon medical cannabis consumption. Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Renee Edwards wrote a letter denying patients claims and opposing the bill. “Marijuana use specifically is not considered a transplant contraindication at OHSU,” the letter reads. “Current substance use disorders, however, are considered transplant contraindicators, as such conditions can negatively impact organ function and inhibit a patient’s ability to comply with strict medical regimens required to maintain the efficacy of a transplant.”
“While my husband had been told that he was the perfect candidate for transplant, he was kicked out of the program.”
Only two organ transplant providers are currently available in Oregon: OHSU, and the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center. This only leaves one option for civilians. This isn’t the first time the hospital has discussed medical cannabis consumption, though. In 2012, OHSU actually loosened its cannabis restrictions. Prior to 2012, OHSU required six months of negative drug tests before a patient would be put on the liver transplant waiting list. The new policy allows patients who meet all of the other criteria to be waitlisted for liver transplants after just one negative drug test.
There are no federal guidelines for medical cannabis consumption and organ transplants. It’s unfortunate that a major organ transplant provider in Oregon is unwilling to support the needs of medical cannabis consumers. But hopefully HB-2687 will pass and become law, and allow medical cannabis patients to benefit from lifesaving treatment.