Beverly Hills NORML Director Cheryl Shuman testifies on the cruelty of banning medical marijuana patients from transplant lists

Recently the Los Angeles City Council held hearings on the thorny issue of medical marijuana dispensary regulation. For years city officials have abrogated their duty to create sensible regulations for the dispensaries that have proliferated across the Los Angeles basin. The number of dispensaries has ballooned to over 500 (not the 1,000+ often claimed) following an ineffective moratorium on the retail medical marijuana outlets.
As usual, the hearings were packed, with medical marijuana patients and activists flooding the chambers to add their testimony to the record.  One citizen petitioning her government for a redress of grievances was the Executive Director of the new Beverly Hills NORML 90210 (, Cheryl Shuman.  In sixty seconds of testimony, Cheryl recounts her own personal medical marijuana tragedy, one that has befallen many desperately ill patients who use cannabis — even legally — and require life-saving organ transplants:

Cheryl’s case is not unique.  All across America, hospitals are booting patients off of organ transplant lists because of their use of cannabis.  Being a legal user of cannabis for medicinal purposes in the now fourteen states that recognize that right is of no help; even legal medical marijuana patients are essentially given a death sentence by hospital and insurance bureaucracies for their use of a safe, non-toxic herbal remedy.
Timothy Garon was a Seattle musician who had contracted Hepatitis C.  Garon was on a waiting list for a life-saving liver transplant.  The state of Washington recognizes Hep C as a qualifying condition for the medical use of cannabis.  Garon’s physician, Dr. Brad Roter, authorized Garon to smoke pot to alleviate his nausea and abdominal pain and to stimulate his appetite while he awaited.  Garon had become dangerously thin and malnourished and the cannabis therapy helped bring him back from the brink of death.
But unbeknown to Dr. Roter, hospital transplant programs have strict rules that forbid “substance abusers” from qualifying for organ transplants.  Seattle’s University of Washington Medical Center told Garon that if he ceased his marijuana use and tested clean for 60 days, he could have his liver transplant.  Another medical center specified six months of marijuana abstinence before they’d save his life with surgery.
Doctors had told Garon he had about two weeks to live and he died on May 1, 2008.  The cruelest irony is that cannabis is one of the few therapies Garon could have taken for pain and nausea that is not hepatoxic (liver-killing) and laden with a list of other nasty side effects.
In Hawaii, Kimberley Reyes suffered from cirrhosis and hepatitis and was given thirty days to live.  She applied for and received approval for a life-saving liver transplant, only to have the rug pulled out from under her three days later when her insurance company, Hawaii Medical Service Association, discovered cannabis in her system, which she had used to relieve feelings of nausea, disorientation and pain.  Ten days later she, too, was dead.
In Washington, Jonathan Simchen suffers from kidney failure. Doctors at Virginia Mason and University of Washington medical centers deny him a life-saving kidney transplant because of his participation in the Washington State medical marijuana program.  According to Alisha Mark, a spokeswoman for Virginia Mason, “any patient who smokes any product — tobacco, cloves, medical marijuana — would be precluded from receiving a transplant here.”
In Georgia, a man named Walter emailed me after reading these transplant stories:

My name is Walter and my kidney transplant was denied by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia due to the fact I smoke marijuana.
In January I went to the University of Minnesota/Fairview Transplant Center for an evaluation. In order to be completely honest with all the doctors I made them aware of the fact that I smoke marijuana and have for quite some time. I also made them aware that the use of marijuana has helped me with the decline of my appetite due to end stage of renal disease. With the exception of the hospital shrink, no one seemed to have a problem with it and even commented that my smoking had nothing to do with my kidney.
Blue Cross Blue Shield approved the evaluation but [after] having received the paperwork from Minnesota has declined my transplant, stating “Kidney transplantation has not been shown to be more beneficial than other alternative treatments for patients with ongoing substance abuse. Thus, I recommended denial of kidney transplantation” (Ronald Hunt MD – Medical Director).

Jim Klahr is a well-known medical marijuana activist here in Oregon who also suffers from cirrhosis and hepatitis C.  In an ironic twist, he sits on the state’s advisory committee on medical marijuana, yet hasn’t used his most effective medicine for his pain and nausea since 2004 because he’s terrified of losing his chance for a liver transplant.  “I’ve capitulated because basically I don’t have much of a choice,” says Klahr.  Paul Stanford of The Hemp & Cannabis Foundation, the state’s largest medical marijuana clinic, estimates at least 30 Oregonians who use medical weed have died in the past 10 years after hospitals denied them new organs.
We understand why hospitals have strict qualifying criteria for transplant candidates.  Transplant organs are in high demand and doctors want every recipient to have the best chance at survival possible.  Hospitals screen their transplant lists for “substance abusers” because it really doesn’t make much sense to put a new liver into an alcoholic who will just go out and drink that organ into cirrhosis and failure as well.  It’s foolhardy to give a new kidney to a heroin addict who would then possibly share needles and come down with another life-threatening disease.
But in the case of cannabis users, the concern for the chance of post-transplant survival is misplaced.  According to new research at the University of Michigan, cannabis use has no impact on the long-term survival rates of liver transplant recipients.  After studying 1,489 liver transplant patients, 155 of whom were cannabis users, over a span of eight years, researchers concluded, “Patients who did and did not use marijuana had similar survival rates. Current substance abuse policies do not seem to systematically expose marijuana users to additional risk of mortality.”
The cases of Cheryl Shuman and all these victims of a cruel and needless discrimination against desperately ill cannabis consumers illustrate why existing medical marijuana laws, while commendable, do not go far enough.  Cheryl Shuman, Tim Garon, Jim Klahr and others are all legal medical marijuana patients in their state, yet powerless under the law to force hospitals to keep them on the transplant lists.  This discrimination exists because cannabis is considered an “illicit drug of abuse” in the same category as heroin and LSD.  This is why cannabis must be removed from Schedule I, legalized for prescription by any doctor in any state, so that it may truly be treated like other medicines, including the prohibition on discrimination against a transplant patient for the use of his or her doctor’s prescriptions.

0 thoughts

  1. The World Health Organization on Monday slammed as “irresponsible” critics who claim swine flu is a fake pandemic created for the benefit of drug companies.

  2. The World Health Organization on Monday slammed as “irresponsible” critics who claim swine flu is a fake pandemic created for the benefit of drug companies. What does this tell you about the drug company? Can’t trust them along with the Oil, Tobacco and Alcohol industries.

  3. I knew there would be a catch. Our government makes it appear to be attempting to make a “difference” by legalizing medical marijuana, but if we all dig just deep enough, we will see that it’s bogus. In NM it has been legalized, but the doctors have been given such strict guidelines, they are afraid to prescribe it. They are afraid to lose their dea license. Just when you think a change is coming …

  4. we can help make a difference by also going to this website and voting for medical marijuana, winners will have idea submitted to the obama administration… its a chance to show obama we are serious about marijuana legalization at least on the medical level.

  5. Wow ….number 51 , that makes so much sense . Please get the ” word ” out there . I believe this a thousand times a thousand times.I never took the shots because i actually doubted the ” Swine Flu ” story & i never contacted any flu .
    With the legalization of Marijuana D.A.T. will take a huge ” hit ” or loss & they are killing people to make their point .
    I put D.A.T. in that order because the strongest opponent to legalization is the Drug Industry , next Alcohol & last is Tobacco . Tobacco you say ? Yes , tobacco . Not here in America but , in other Countries where they are deceiving & lying to the populous . As a rich Country we don’t need them but , in other Countries particularly in poor Countries they gladly accept their money .This is why i said in illiterate Countries they believe this rubbish which increases the use of Tobacco & increases the penalties against Marijuana .
    They are murdering its people . As of this writing three people have been sentenced to death in Malaysia for Marijuana .One by hanging . He was just sentenced after already spending 7 years in prison . You should see him . It looks like he weighs 80 pounds .

  6. Our friend needs a Liver transplant because of Hepatitis C but is being denied, Now the doctors are saying it will get better, Strange how they changed their minds about how bad it was after they found out she was using Cannabis, They are now doing almost nothing for her, But they NEVER came right out and actually stated that her Cannabis use was WHY they would not give her a Liver Transplant, They are probably afraid of being sued if it ever becomes a fully legal Medicine, It`s about time for some “REAL” Health Care Reform, Transplants Should be listed as “Necessary Reasonable Care” Regardless of WHAT Medication you personally decide to use whether it be “Herbal” or Not! Along with the Reform of “Feel Good” Laws that are actually in conflict with the “Bill of Rights”, To tell someone that they have to Die just because “You” a “Politician” does NOT agree with your choice of Medications, IS VERY WRONG!!!!!!!
    The very Concept of Prohibition is WRONG!!!!!!

  7. This is EXACTLY the reasons why I would NEVER get a Dr. recommendation. Although I would qualify with ease here in CA…Legitimately…I could not sleep at night knowing that I started a paper trail that could come back and literally kill me down the road.
    There are no protections or guarantees that your medical records will not be used AGAINST you. I would rather pay the $100 fine and have a misdemeanor criminal record than a “license” that stays on my medical record for ever.
    I will continue to stay underground until the lunacy stops once and for all.
    Don’t fall for the illusion of safety that a recommendation allegedly gives you because as they say “Any thing you ‘say’ can and will be used against you.”

  8. I’m in the same boat, Hep-C for 40 years, now it’s advanced to cirrosis and auto-immune… I can’t get any marijuana here, unless I wanted to go to the high school where it is redily available… but I can get Morphine from my DR… just had my dose doubled to 30mg and 120 pills…. I hate the stuff, pot works, works fast and doesn’t leave me wacked out…
    Isn’t there some kind of a law that a law is invalid if it is not for valid reasons, marijuana has killed no one yet alcohol and cigs have killed millions… where is the parity as to the reasoning as to why one is illegal and why another is not…?

  9. I am a disabled mom of three. I am in constant pain, I barely eat and I am a TOKER!! NYC is a wonderful place, but it is backwards. We punish those who need help the most and empower those who destroy the very fabric of society. The drug companies are running the US not the President. They make too much money keeping us dependent on these legal drugs and they want to keep it that way. NO limits on corporate contributions, ok–that means all politicians can be pimped for more money!! GOD have mercy on us. What have we become, when killing citizens is legal and encouraged.

  10. The issue here is really not at all about whether marijuana should be given to sick people. From a medical standpoint, if the drug relieves suffering without dangerous side-effects, then it is a good therapy. So, the ordinary citizen should not be required to decide whether it should be allowed or not since it is a medical decision alone. The ten thousand other drugs that physicians use are not placed before a committee of laymen to decide whether they should be used or not, so what is so special about marijuana? Why is such an issue put on the ballot for the uninformed and uneducated people to vote on? Quite simply – the people are being brainwashed.
    When the media rages through both sides of the debate – some saying “Yes” and others saying “No” – without really attempting to clarify the situation, then you know that neither a “yes” nor a “no” is their goal.
    The main goal of this debate is to brainwash the People with the idea that marijuana is a pharmacological drug that is prescribed only by doctors to people who are sick, and NOT a recreational
    substance on the same level as alcohol. They want the People to begin thinking of marijuana as something that a pharmacy dispenses for a fee, and not as an agricultural product that anyone can grow.
    The Medical Marijuana Debate is just another swindle. Its goal is not to determine the advisability of letting cancer patients take an illegal drug or not. After all, most of the drugs that cancer patients take are not only highly illegal without a prescription but extremely toxic as well. There is no debate on whether to allow cancer patients to take morphine patches or swallow a hundred other drugs prescribed by their doctors. Why is this? The goal of the Medical Marijuana Debate is to convince people that marijuana should be a controlled substance that only the doctors and pharmacists should be allowed to dispense.

  11. #60, yes, the Medical Marijuana Debate is just another swindle. But the medical profession really has nothing to do with it. The real culprits are organized crime and “medical marijuana” is proof as to how corrupted our society has become and exactly what role the medical profession plays in this corruption.
    The other missing parts of the “medical marijuana” debate are the absence of dosage in the dispensing of “medical marijuana”. If the medical profession were really looking after its own interests in providing “medical marijuana” to “patients”, then a real prescription would be involved. But that’s not what we got. What a doctor gives a “medical marijuana” patient is the right to purchase and consume as much marijuana as they want. The doctor does not prescribe dosages or any kind of limits on consumption at all. And how often does a doctor spontaneously provide for “medical marijuana”? We can reliably guess that the patient is the one taking the initiative here, not the doctor. This not only contradicts the economy of the drug industry, but ancient medical ethics as well.
    It also helps to remember that many drugs legally prescribed by doctors are on the black market and it is not difficult to assume there are many medical doctors who are making money on the black market as well.

  12. It’s appalling that anyone would be denied medical care because of the use of something so benign as marijuana. It’s time for some sensible regulations regarding the amount of marijuana a person can cultivate and possess with out fear of prosecution or, in the case of these patients, medical persecution. How about personal use and cultivation permit, maybe 8 ounces of ready-to-use and a dozen growing plants? Maybe a $100 per year fee, like a fishing license, but with the fee waived for persons showing a medical need?

  13. It’s appalling that anyone would be denied medical care because of the use of something so benign as marijuana. It’s time for some sensible regulations regarding the amount of marijuana a person can cultivate and possess with out fear of prosecution or, in the case of these patients, medical persecution. How about personal use and cultivation permit, maybe 8 ounces of ready-to-use and a dozen growing plants? Maybe a $100 per year fee, like a fishing license, but with the fee waived for persons showing a medical need?

  14. is asking for more ideas…. I am asking that Marijuana be removed from a Schedule I substance (I think you would all agree this should happen).
    Please go vote and tell your friends to as well (you have to sign up with first):
    Yeah… I realize this may be glossed over once again, but it doesn’t hurt us to keep pressing the issue!!! The vote gathering will go on until Feb 18th and we need to make sure this idea gets to and stays in the top three. I emplore you to take two minutes and sign up and vote. Pass this around on facebook, myspace, twitter, and any other pro-pot websites so that we can get the most attention as we can.

  15. these people are just to worried abouth the negative effect of marijuana instead of thinking of the positive side…They should think about how those people’s life could have been saved if they hadnt been told to stop smoking marijuana if they wanted a transplant. If they hadnt been rejected they might have been still living to their 80s but no thanx to those ignorant people who disagree with medical cannabis those innocent people are DEAD

  16. How about all cannabis users remove themselves from the donor lists until this practice changes. Make sure to also emphatically state to your spouse or family that in the event of your death that
    you do NOT wish to have your organs donated and to tell the harvesting organizations representative why you have decided not to do so when they come calling. (added by Mobile using Mippin)

  17. if we are able too grow reefer what about people that want too steal our plants?there are people all over the country that will.crooks are all over.ill grow if it comes up

  18. My boyfriend was denied a heart transplant at 38 years old due to the fact he used marijuana to cope with the pain and nausea and to be able to eat. The doctors at UCLA medical center refused him pain management so he had to smoke it a few times. In order to receive any help (transplant, bridge to transplant etc….)you have to be perfect according to the doctors as well as be able to put up with more then any human being has ever put up with. I was totally disgusted at the doctors and the transplant team(who you NEVER see or meet) but you know them by the paperwork they send you. I think had they had to face the real person that they are talking to on paper they might have to have compassion and they don’t so they hide behind their paperwork and send the doctors to deliver the bad news to your family. They don’t even have the grace to tell you, the patient. Then they tell you stories about other transplant patients that make you sick to your stomache.I heard of patients that were abusers prior to and are abusers after. In the hospital they call you frequent visitors and they get to know you. I met one man who got a heart and was an alcoholic and used cocaine. Since his heart he has been in the hosp no less then 25 times because he wont stop abusing his body. Another was an overweight man who got a heart and never was told to get into shape. He has only gained weight since the transplant and is also a frequent visitor to UCLA medical center. How dare the “transplant” team play GOD. Their job is to SAVE lives not deny life!!!!! It makes me sick to think that my Boyfriend, Christopher Anderson, lost his life to the people playing God and not to nautral causes at a ripe old age. If I had one wish for him I would wish that the life of someone related to the transplant team had to be saved and because that person was not “perfect” the other members of the team vote NO NO NO!!!!! Then maybe the playing GOD will go away but until such time the Transplant teams and the Health insurance providers can all do way more then lick my ass!!!

  19. I’m Pissed. My best friend just found out today, they told her if she wants to live and get the double transplant she needs, she has to stop smoking pot. She has her card. She got diabetes as a child. She is in renal failure, and on dialysis twice a week. Because her gal bladder isn’t working, this causes gastro peresis. Constant vomiting, once she starts it’s triggered, she cant stop. Thank God the the Marijuana butter, its takes the nausea away and of coarse her appetite is awesome. My friend will die without the marijuana. WHAT EVER I CAN DO, I’M ON BOARD!!! WE NEED TO RALLY A MILLION MARIJUANA MAN MARCH (FOR THE CAUSE) LIKE BREAST CANCER AWARENESS, WE’LL JUST MAKE IT GREEN!!!!! WHAT DO I NEED TO DO GET SIGNATURES?? I WANT TO BE A PART OF THIS.

  20. Going through the same thing had bladder cancer and had a transplanted kidney fail due to grafting after 11 years which is good considering it was a cadaver. I finally got cleared for my cancer even though I can’t do any treatment besides being evaluated every 3 months and hopefully scrapping it out everytime. Being high risk with immunosuppressed system I am compromised. Now I have a donor and am being told the same bs. I have 2 young kids and been on dialysis again and they get to watch me die …thank you big pharm,legislatures, governments , and all groups who don’t want people to live!!!!

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