Ryan’s Law: Medical Marijuana is Now Allowed in CA Healthcare Facilities for the Terminally Ill

Ryan's Law
By Andrew Ward Updated March 8th

September 28, 2021, marked a momentous day in California medical marijuana law history. On that day, Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB-311, also known as "Ryan's Law." Sponsored by Senator Ben Hueso and co-signed by Senator Brian Jones, the legislation requires healthcare facilities to allow terminally ill patients with a valid medical ID card to consume medical cannabis on the premises. Terminally ill patients without a card can also treat themselves with cannabis with a recommendation from their physician. 

Ryan's Law took law effect on January 1, 2022, applying to all CA health care facilities, including: 

  • Acute care hospitals
  • Special hospitals
  • Skilled nursing facilities
  • Congregate living health facilities
  • Hospice providers 

Chemical dependency recovery hospitals and state-run hospitals are excluded from Ryan's Law.

What Does Ryan's Law Do?

Ryan's Law

Ryan's Law intends to provide applicable patients with an alternative to opiates in their final days and weeks. Under the law, patients can opt to use cannabis as a way to achieve the highly potent sedative effects they need, but with a reduced intensity that allows them to be more lucid than with traditionally prescribed medicine. 

The bill serves as an enhancement to California's Compassionate Use Act of 1996, also known as Proposition 215. Under SB-311, health care facilities must adhere to the following parameters: 

  • Do not interfere or prohibit an applicable patient from using medical cannabis on-site. Smoked and vaped cannabis products are excluded from the rule.
  • List medical cannabis use in a patient's record.
  • Obtain a copy of the patient's valid medical cannabis license or physician recommendation before allowing any consumption.
  • Guidelines must be written and distributed detailing the new protocols.
  • Ensure that the patient's cannabis is secured in a locked container when not in use.

When Does Ryan's Law Go Into Effect?

The bill was signed into law on September 28, 2021, and took effect on January 1, 2022. 

Can Hospitals Refuse to Comply with Ryan's Law?

No. Hospitals that fall into one of the aforementioned medical facilities listed above are required to comply with Ryan's Law. Compliance includes the creation of safe administration protocols. 

While many facilities are obligated to comply with the law, hospitals are not responsible for obtaining or recommending medical cannabis, whether the patient has a terminal condition or otherwise. 

Can Hospitals Lose Funding by Complying with Ryan's Law?

No. Unless a Federal agency orders the hospital to stop complying, in which case Ryan’s Law allows the hospital to comply with federal demands. This concession to the possibility of federal demands was made because Governor Newsom vetoed a similar bill in 2019, saying he was concerned that the federal government might withhold funds from hospitals that allow cannabis use.  

Does Ryan's Law Allow All Types of Cannabis?

No. Ryan's Law allows applicable patients to consume most forms of medical cannabis on-site, except for smoking and vaping.

Who Does Ryan's Law Affect?

Ryan's Law California

Ryan's Law affects terminally ill patients who wish to use medical cannabis in a California hospital or other qualified medical care facility. Combined with Prop 215, California patients are now able to use medical marijuana with reasonable protections for themselves and designated caregivers. 

Learn more about how to get your medical cannabis card in California and what to expect when talking to your physician.

The passage of Ryan's Law is the latest advancement in California's medical marijuana laws. It joins notable pieces of legislation like 2003's Medical Marijuana Program Act that expanded patient rights while establishing a voluntary ID card program aimed at helping patients avoid arrest for using their medicine.

When attempting to qualify as a patient under Ryan's Law, be sure you have the following:

  • A copy of your valid MMIC ID card. A recommendation from an attending physician can serve as an alternative for patients without an active card.
  • A copy of an active or unexpired government-issued photo ID.
  • Bring only non-inhalable forms of cannabis. Smoked and vaped cannabis consumption remain prohibited.
  • Inform hospital staff of your medical cannabis use and that you plan on using cannabis on-site, citing Ryan's Law if you receive any pushback.

Keep in mind:

  • Expect some slow transitions at select facilities, as some may be slow to adopt new policies. Consider having your own lockable container to store your cannabis to prepare for such a case. Consider bringing a physical or digital copy of the law ready to show the approved legislation.
  • Once again, do not attempt to consume smoked or vaped products on-site. You could be removed from Ryan's Law protection and face charges related to public smoking. Additionally, smoking anything indoors shows a degree of disrespect to others in the area who may not want to, or cannot, consume medical cannabis.

What If You Are Denied Your Rights Under Ryan's Law?

If you believe that you qualify under Ryan's Law and are having problems with cannabis use, immediately contact ryanslaw@safeaccessnow.org or call (888) 929-4367.

Why Is the California Bill Called Ryan's Law?

Lawmakers named SB-311 after Ryan Bartell, 41, a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard. In 2018, Ryan’s original medical facility, a palliative wing of a hospital, rejected his request to consume cannabis on-site when he was dying from Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Instead, he was given morphine and fentanyl for four and a half weeks. 

After the experience, Bartell was moved to a different facility where medical cannabis use was permitted. The change allowed Ryan to remain alert and comfortable, rather than sedated, during his final two and a half weeks. On April 21, 2018, he passed away, surrounded by family and additional loved ones.

After Ryan Bartell's passing, his father, Jim, decided to fight for SB-311 in his son's name. Determined to ensure that no other family in California go through what they did, Bartell enlisted the support of Senators Hueso, Jones and others, bringing substantive change to California's medical marijuana laws and end-of-life care in the state. 

The information in this article and any included images or charts are for educational purposes only. This information is neither a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional legal advice or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about laws, regulations, or your health, you should always consult with an attorney, physician or other licensed professional.

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