Over 25 years after the passage of Proposition 215, Assembly Bill 1954 backers hope to expand protections for both patients and doctors when it comes to medical cannabis, while Senate Bill 988 would make it easier to medicate in medical facilities. 

Both bills continue the work of making California medical cannabis patients’ lives easier that started over a quarter-century ago.  

The AB1954 is sponsored by Assembly member Bill Quirk and would protect the right of patients to medical treatment regardless of their medical cannabis uses. It also would further solidify the rights of physicians and clinics to treat medical cannabis patients by clarifying doctors cannot be punished for treating medical cannabis users under California law. 

“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 California NORML. Gieringer was a co-author of Proposition 215. 

The problem is so widespread that CANORML has kept a running list of what patients have had to deal with. When announcing the collaboration with Quirk on the bill, it noted patients regularly offer stories like getting kicked out of pain management programs after testing positive for THC, despite the growing research showing cannabis as an effective alternative to opiate-based regimes. 

CANORML pointed out The California Medical Association’s (CMA) House of Delegates decision that condemned expelling cannabis patients from pain management programs. Larry A. Bedard was one of the doctors that helped write that resolution to the CMA in 2019. 

“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,” Bedard noted. 

The legislation is expected to face its first vote in the Assembly Business and Professions Committee in March.

Senate Bill 988 would add to SB 384 known as Ryan’s Law. SB 384 was passed last year, after previously getting vetoed in 2019 over concerns about significant conflicts with federal law by requiring specific types of health care facilities to allow terminally ill patients to use medicinal cannabis within the health care facility with certain restrictions. The restrictions were based on operational safety for the nursing home. 

There were two mechanisms built into the bill to make it a bit more palatable to the health care industry. The first was that complying with Ryan’s Law would not be a factor in the relicensing process. The second was, if the facility came under scrutiny from the feds over allowing the use of cannabis, they could stop.

The bill eventually went on to receive Governor Newsom’s blessing with the intent of making it easier for patients in medical facilities to use cannabis as a treatment. While SB 988 took care of most of it, there is a section of the health code that wasn’t covered in the first bill. 

While one could argue there is enough room in Section 1649.3 of the Health and Safety Code to allow medical facilities to let patients use cannabis, SB 988 would require health care facilities “permitting patient use of medical cannabis to comply with other drug and medication requirements, as specified, and the requirement that those facilities be subject to enforcement actions by the State Department of Public Health.”

When it comes to trying to normalize treatments that aren’t in compliance with federal law, making the facility operator feel as safe as possible is key. While the idea of using cannabis was certainly an option in the alternative hospice scene, normalizing it for all patients in more traditional settings would go a long way in improving the quality of life of many of California’s sick. 


LA Weekly