Ryan’s Law: California Legalizes Cannabis use in Hospitals

What we used to call “medical marijuana” first became legal in California 25 years ago. Two weeks ago, Gov. Newsom, riding “high” from his recall election victory, finally made it possible for the people who need access to cannabis the most to actually get it where they actually are. That’s in the hospital. Dying. Hoping for some comfort.

California’s “Ryan’s Law”—S.B. 311—allows for access to cannabis in hospice and hospital settings without exposing those healthcare providers to funding freezes from the feds. If you didn’t know, this is the ongoing block in the world of regulated cannabis. The federal government still treats cannabis as among the most dangerous drugs known to humankind—“Schedule I,” really?—so organizations in federally regulated industries, like medicine and banking, take huge risks if they engage in cannabis-related business. Without S.B. 311, most hospice providers wouldn’t touch the cannabis treatment that has been legal in California since 1996.

Ryan’s Law is named for a man who died of pancreatic cancer at age 41. As his father testified, once Ryan found a medical facility that gave him access to cannabis treatment, his pain eased and the two were able to meaningfully connect in his dying days. The current medical go-to for end-of-life—opiates—just doesn’t lift the dying out of their pain and life-numbing haze long enough to let them truly live out their last days.

I had my own Ryan. His name was Paul; he was my uncle. A pipeline construction engineer based in Texas most of his life, he and I couldn’t have been more different. A punk rock-philosophy poet and an oil man—sounds like an ’80s buddy cop show.

We loved each other, I never doubted that. Except for my mother, who passed years before, Paul was the only person on that side of my family who I could really talk to. When I started my own business, he was a weekly adviser, offering moments of friendship that I really treasure now.

Paul’s cancer came quickly, as it does sometimes. In my family it always comes. On a visit to his room at the John Muir Medical Center in 2011, I tried to leave behind some THC chocolates. He became nervous and upset. The medical application of weed wasn’t in his worldview, and the legal disconnect didn’t help the situation. I couldn’t see it as wrong, he couldn’t see it as right. I ate the chocolates myself on the ride home from Walnut Creek.

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