New legislation aims to alter Maine Medical Center's organ transplant policy: 8 things to know

A new bill under consideration by lawmakers in Maine would force Maine Medical Center in Portland to alter its organ transplant policy, which prohibits medical marijuana users from receiving donor organs, according to a report from the Portland Press Herald.

Here are eight things to know about the issue.

1. The current hospital rule bars medical marijuana users from receiving an organ transplant due to the risk of patients contracting aspergillosis from a type of black mold that can sometimes cultivate on marijuana buds.

2. The proposed legislation would only affect Maine Medical Center as it is the only transplant center in the state.

3. The proposed bill "prohibits the medical use of marijuana from being the sole disqualifying factor in determining a person's suitability for receiving an anatomical gift," according to the bill's summary.

4. The namesake and inspiration for the bill is Milford resident Gary Godfrey. Mr. Godfrey suffers from Alport syndrome, a hereditary disease that causes kidney failure. Mr. Godfrey began using medical marijuana — which was legalized in the state in 1999 — after prescription medications failed to treat his symptoms.

5. In 2012, Mr. Godfrey was bumped from the transplant list at Maine Medical Center due to his marijuana use. Mr. Godfrey was faced with the decision to either quit using the only medication that had provided relief from his symptoms, or continue to use marijuana and receive dialysis until his kidneys ultimately failed him. Mr. Godfrey would have had to give up marijuana use for a year before returning to the bottom of the transplant list, according to his testimony on Monday.

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6. Caregivers and patients testified Monday that other states like New Hampshire and California have passed legislation to keep medical marijuana users on organ transplant lists. Also, speakers testified that while marijuana buds can be contaminated by mold, the risk of infection can be eliminated in carefully made medical marijuana products like the liquid form of the drug called cannabis tinctures. Speakers also highlighted the fact that organ donors in Maine are not screened for medical marijuana use.

7. "Our drug use policy currently prohibits transplant candidates from the use of prescribed or recreational marijuana by any route (inhaled, oral) due to the risk of an invasive fungal infection known as aspergillosis, which has been documented by numerous medical journals," said Maine Medical Center in a statement provided to the Portland Press Herald. "The Maine transplant program conducts a periodic review of its policies and makes revisions that are based on clear, evidence-based standards that take into account patient safety and the viability of transplant success."

8. If the policy is changed, Mr. Godfrey will not likely benefit as he would be placed at the bottom of the transplant list and face a years-long wait for a new kidney. "It could make a difference in somebody else's life, and that's what matters," said Mr. Godfrey on Monday, according to the report.

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