A man who was refused a liver transplant by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles because he used medical marijuana to cope with his symptoms is hoping his story will change the transplant policies of hospitals around the country.
“Now I just accept it, I deal with it, and I take it one day at a time,” Norman B. Smith told Reason TV. “I realize that the chance of Cedars changing their mind is a long shot. But if I can effect a change, so be it. It is probably too late for me, but I hope it makes it easier for the next guy.”
Smith was diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer in 2009. His oncologist at Cedars-Sinai, Dr. Steven Miles, approved of his medical marijuana use as a means to deal with the effects of chemotherapy and pain from an unrelated back surgery.
In September 2010, Smith became eligible for a liver transplant, but after testing positive for marijuana in February he was removed from the transplant list due to non-compliance with the hospital’s substance abuse contract. Smith was within two months of receiving a transplant before he was de-listed.
“Marijuana is considered substance abuse,” Peggy Stewart, a clinical social worker with UCLA’s transplant program, explained. “The legality of it is really not an issue.”
The hospital said that using marijuana put transplant patients at risk of infection from aspergillus, a mold found in marijuana. But the dispensary Smith gets his marijuana from tests its product for aspergillus and other contaminants in compliance with FDA guidelines.
“It’s safer than the spinach and lettuce that you eat,” Smith said.
Stephanie Sherer of Americans for Safe Access told Reason TV the issue was not an isolated incident. In 2008, a medical marijuana patient from Seattle died after being denied a liver transplant by the University of Washington Medical Center. Less than a year later, another medical marijuana patient from Big Island died at Hilo Hospital after being denied a liver transplant.