Garry Godfrey knew that his kidneys would eventually fail. He has Alport syndrome, a hereditary disorder that causes renal failure at a young age. But when his kidneys did shut down in 2009, he couldn't have anticipated what came next.
After nine years on a transplant list and three years of painful dialysis treatments three times per week, Godfrey was informed that he'd been removed from the list in 2012. As a medical marijuana patient, he was disqualified from receiving an organ transplant under a policy imposed by the state's only transplant center two years earlier.
"They informed me that if I became clean for one year, submitted one year's worth of drug tests, that I could get back on the list," Godfrey told ATTN:. But that meant going to the back of the transplant line and abstaining from a plant that'd given him relief from symptoms that pharmaceuticals failed to treat.
"I tried everything with my doctors for the pain, the nausea, the anxiety. I've tried countless pharmaceuticals that changed who I was," he said. "I felt like a zombie. I couldn't function, and I was more-or-less laying in my bed doing nothing."
"You can't take care of your family doing that — you can't even take care of yourself when you're like that."
Godfrey decided to challenge the law that got him kicked off the transplant list. He shared his story wherever he could, finding support among some state lawmakers who recently drafted a bill that would allow medical marijuana patients to receive organ transplants. Godfrey's testimony in favor of the bill brought national attention to his situation on Monday.
Why deny organ transplants to medical marijuana patients in the first place?
In general, these policies have been justified based on one of two arguments, Steph Sherer, founder and executive director of Americans for Safe Access told ATTN:. They'll either claim that being a medical marijuana patient is a "sign of use of other drugs" — which runs counter to what researchers have found — or they'll claim that contaminants in marijuana such as mold that would "threaten the health of the organ."
Maine took the latter approach in 2010: "Our drug use policy currently prohibits transplant candidates from using marijuana, due to the risk of an invasive fungal infection known as aspergillosis," Maine Medical Center, the only facility that provides organ transplants in the state, said in a statement to CBS 13.
But that reasoning is problematic, Sherer said. After all, "every [medical marijuana] state law requires testing for the contaminants that have been brought up as showing potential harm for the recipient."
"Even if there was a requirement that the medicine that [transplant patients] were using had to go through additional testing, that'd be better than kicking a patient off the list." For the time being, though, only 12 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws that offer "some kind of protection" for medical marijuana users who need organ transplants, Sherer said. "What I see in the future is probably another series of lawsuits for clarification, unless these institutions can set reasonable regulations."