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California protects health care of cannabis patients

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California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill (AB 1954 – Quirk) to protect the right of patients to medical treatment if they use marijuana, and the right of doctors and clinics to treat. The project was sponsored by Cal NORML and co-sponsored by Americans for Safe Access.

“Many doctors are under the mistaken impression that they cannot prescribe medication to patients who test positive for cannabis,” said Dale Gieringer, Director of Cal NORML. The new law clarifies that doctors cannot be punished for treating patients who use or test positive for cannabis, despite its illegal status under federal law.

Cal NORML regularly hears from patients who have been terminated from pain management medications due to their use of medical cannabis. An online survey with nearly 600 respondents found that 18.5% were denied by a doctor prescription medications because of their cannabis use.

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The effectiveness of cannabis is well established

A large number of studies have shown that cannabis is effective for pain, and can help patients reduce the use of opiates. Our survey shows that 24-30% of respondents increased their use of opiates or other medications because of drug testing by their doctor or employer.

The California Medical Association House of Delegates adopted a resolution in 2019 condemning the automatic removal of patients who use medicinal cannabis from pain management programs. AB 1954 specifies that a positive drug test for cannabis shall not in itself be the sole basis for denying medical treatment to a patient without a significant medical reason.

“It is irresponsible and unethical for pain management programs to eliminate patients who use medical cannabis for their chronic pain, because there is conclusive scientific evidence that cannabis is a safe and effective treatment for chronic pain,” he said. Larry A. Bedard, a Marine. based doctor who authored the CMA resolution.

“I’m so happy this bill passed. Patients can’t wait any longer,” said Yami Bolanos, a Los Angeles patient and advocate who was instrumental in the passage of AB 258 (Levine; 2015), ending discrimination against organ transplant patients who use cannabis in California.

AB 1954 passed the legislature with bipartisan support. Many thanks to Asm. Bill Quirk for the sponsorship and to Governor Newsom for the signature.


Founded in 1972, California NORML, the state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, is a non-profit membership organization that supports the rights of cannabis consumers in California.

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