The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the governor of California’s office are looking into whether hospitals and other healthcare facilities in legal marijuana states can allow terminally ill patients to use medical cannabis without jeopardizing federal funding. The moves come in response to a request from a state lawmaker who is pursuing legislation on the issue.
California Sen. Ben Hueso (D) is sponsoring a bill meant to codify that California hospitals can permit such treatment. And after he sent letters to state and federal officials last month inquiring about cannabis access for patients, he’s received calls from representatives of both HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) ensuring that their offices were looking into the matter, according to a local media outlet.
Confusion about possible federal funding implications for permitting marijuana consumption in health facilities led pro-legalization Newsom to veto a prior bill meant to address the issue in 2019.
Hueso’s legislation was partly inspired by the experience of a father whose son died from cancer and was initially denied access to cannabis at a California hospital. Jim Bartell did eventually find a facility that agreed to allow the treatment, and he recounted that his son’s quality of life improved dramatically in those last days.
“He would sleep through the night and wake up pain-free,” Bartell told The Southern California Record. “He was talking, texting his friends and asking them to visit him. During his last two and a half weeks, he met with dozens of visitors and he spent an hour every day talking to his son just the two of them.”
Motivated to give other families the same right to cannabis access for their loved ones, he helped craft the Compassionate Access to Medical Cannabis Act, which is being carried by Hueso.
The senator received a letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) several months ago stating that there are no federal regulations in place that specifically address this issue and that it isn’t aware of any cases where funding has been pulled because a hospital allows patients to use medical cannabis.
“Our correspondence from CMS reaffirmed for us, and the state agencies, that we do not have to fear federal penalties in regards to cannabis use by terminally-ill patients in hospitals,” Bartell told Marijuana Moment.
Meanwhile, the senator’s letter to Becerra on the need for further clarification on federal policy seems to be catching the attention of officials.
A staffer in the Hueso’s office told the Southern California Record that he “got a call from [HHS Secretary] Becerra’s office, acknowledging the letter and saying they were looking into it.”
Published: August 26, 2021
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