Newsom signs legislation allowing cannabis treatments in California health care facilities

After vetoing a similar bill in 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday night reversed course and signed legislation that would allow the use of cannabis in health care facilities for terminally ill patients, according to his office. A statement from the governor was not immediately available.

The legislation, Senate Bill 311 — Compassionate Access to Medical Cannabis Act, or Ryan’s Law — was introduced in February by Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, and has the support of a North Bay area health care district.

It was the second go-around at legalizing medical cannabis in health care facilities.

In vetoing the bill in March 2019, Newsom expressed support for the use of medical cannabis in a hospital setting, but said, “This bill would create significant conflicts between federal and state law that cannot be taken lightly.” Federal law classifies marijuana as an illegal drug, while voters in California approved its recreational use in 2016.

The difference between the bill two years ago and the one Newsom has now approved, is that federal officials have since signaled that they don’t have a strong position against the use of medical marijuana in a hospital facility, according to Hueso.

Jamie Maites, vice president, marketing and communications for Marin Health, on Tuesday said the Marin Healthcare District Board of Directors supported SB 311.

Dr. Larry Bedard, chairman of the district board and a representative of the American Medical Association Cannabis Task Force, is a longtime advocate for medicinal cannabis. He posted on LinkedIn last night: “We did it. … Terminally ill patients now have the right to use cannabis in hospitals.” Bedard could not be reached for comment.

Maites, however, emphasized that the hospital the district operates, MarinHealth Medical Center, has taken no position on SB 311.

Representatives at other North Bay health care systems, including Sutter Health, Kaiser Permanente, Providence Northern California and NorthBay Healthcare, all deferred to the California Hospital Association, of which they are members.

“Hospitals’ primary goal is providing safe, high-quality patient care. Doing so means complying with myriad laws and regulations at both the state and federal levels, or risk losing Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, as well as any other federal grants and contracts,” CHA stated in a Sept. 15 letter to Newsom. “For that reason, the California Hospital Association must oppose Senate Bill 311.”

As a matter of principle, however, CHA said it does not oppose the use of medical cannabis.

The cannabis industry welcomed the news that Newsom had approved the legislation allowing health care facilities to administer cannabis for terminally ill patients.

Lindsay Robinson, executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Association, said SB 311 fits ideally into the pain-management prescription that hospice facilities have used for years.

Robinson described the bill as well-thought-out and written in such a way as to protect the rights of those who have come to medicinally rely on cannabis to manage their end-of-life pain and, at the same time, respect others in a hospital setting. The legislation bans smoking and vaping. Robinson envisions the drug to be administered in pill format.

When asked whether she believes hospitals would have a concern the federal government would crack down on them considering the drug is still considered illegal, Robinson said: “For the most part, the government has been taking a hands-off approach to medicinal cannabis.”

Even at the federal level, California’s proposed law received a welcoming.

“I think this is fantastic news the state of California made it easier for health care facilities to allow for cannabis consumption,” said Morgan Fox, spokesman for the National Cannabis Industry Association.

Fox said he’s heard of instances in which health care facilities have “provided space” for patients to use cannabis for medical purposes.

“It’s definitely more and more common in hospice settings. We know there were instances in which some facilities were worried about losing federal funds, but we haven’t seen a backlash,” he said.

Susan Wood contributed to this story.

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