National

In need of a kidney transplant, he got kicked off the list for using medical marijuana

Maine is one of more than two dozen states that allows medical marijuana and could soon join a group of seven states with laws to protect medical marijuana users from being denied organ transplants.
Maine is one of more than two dozen states that allows medical marijuana and could soon join a group of seven states with laws to protect medical marijuana users from being denied organ transplants. AP

Medical marijuana has been legal in the state of Maine since 1999. In 2016, a majority of voters supported the legalization of recreational marijuana as well.

But one Maine man’s use of cannabis, which he said “made it possible for me to function daily and take care of my family,” could potentially cost him his life.

Gerry Godfrey suffers from Alport syndrome, a hereditary disease that causes kidney disease, per WGME. As a result, he says he suffers from chronic pain, nausea and anxiety, as well as kidney failure.

In 2003, Godfrey joined the list of people waiting for a kidney transplant at the Maine Medical Center, the only transplant center in the state, according to the Portland Press Herald. For the next nine years, he worked his way up the list, only to be deemed ineligible and removed from the registry in 2012.

The reason, he told state lawmakers on Monday, was because he used medical marijuana to control his “debilitating” pain, per the Associated Press.

"You should not be discriminated against for the type of medicine you choose," Godfrey said, per WGME.

Godfrey was testifying in Augusta, Maine, in favor of a proposed bill that would prohibit hospitals from excluding transplant candidates for using marijuana. The bill, which is currently in committee, has bipartisan support.

Godfrey also told lawmakers that he was told he could rejoin the list if he stopped using marijuana for a year. However, he said that if he did so, he would lose all the progress he made over the course of nine years and start at the bottom of the list again.

“As I saw it, I only had one choice,” Godfrey testified. “Marijuana made it possible for me to function daily and take care of my family. I should have never had to choose between a lifesaving organ transplant and a lifesaving medicine.”

Maine Medical Center, however, said Godfrey was mistaken in his assertion that he would have to start at the bottom of the list again. A spokesperson told McClatchy that the Center bases its kidney registry off multiple factors, including time on dialysis, which does not reset when a person rejoins the list.

In a statement, Maine Medical Center told WGME that it changed its policy in 2010 to prevent marijuana use among those waiting for transplants because of “the risk of an invasive fungal infection known as aspergillosis.” As of Wednesday, the Center has entered no public testimony against the bill.

According to the CDC, aspergillosis is the second most common fungal infection among solid organ transplant recipients, and those who get it have just a 59 percent survival rate within the first year.

However, instances of invasive aspergillosis are relatively rare among organ transplants. One study indicates that over a one-year period, 0.65 percent of organ transplant recipients contract aspergillosis. And another study showed no correlation between cannabis use and the survival rate of liver transplant recipients.

If Maine’s bill passes, it will join California, Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Washington as states that have laws on the books preventing medical centers from denying transplants to people solely because of their use of medical marijuana, per Medscape.

  Comments