Posted by Kris Hermes
Last Saturday, a memorial service was held for Norman Smith, 64. I never met Norman in person, but I feel like I got to know a part of him before he passed. Norman was a fighter, yet he seemed to face the difficulties in life with grace and acceptance. In 2009, Norman was diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer, and spent the rest of his years in treatment.
Norman was also a medical marijuana patient. For nearly two years, Norman took part in a rare clinical trial to combat his liver cancer. During the trial, Norman smoked medical marijuana as an adjunct to his treatment, and was the only patient out of 60 to have a successful remission, earning him the moniker of “Miracle Man.”
In September 2010, Norman became eligible for a liver transplant at Cedars-Sinai, where he was receiving treatment and where he obtained a recommendation for medical marijuana from his oncologist. However, Norman was removed from the transplant list by Cedars in February 2011 after testing positive for marijuana.
In August 2011, Norman stopped smoking medical marijuana in order to adhere to Cedars’ requirements, which were remarkably stringent: 6 months of drug abuse counseling and random drug testing. Americans for Safe Access tried to intervene by urging Cedars to change its policy and by bringing attention to Norman’s plight. Tragically, despite compelling publicity from media outlets like the Los Angeles Times and Reason TV, and Norman’s compliance with the hospital’s 6-month requirement, Cedars refused to put him back on the transplant list.
After he stopped smoking marijuana, Norman’s cancer returned and he was subjected to further chemotherapy instead of being given a transplant for which he should have been eligible, but for his medical marijuana consumption. Norman fought as long as he could and eventually passed this July.
One of the many redeeming qualities about Norman was his selfless interest in helping others forgo what he had to go through. Unfortunately, Norman was not alone in being denied organ transplants at Cedars and many other hospitals across the country. Most recently, Toni Trujillo was kicked off the kidney transplant list at Cedars-Sinai for her medical marijuana use.
Notably, over the past four years, there have been numerous reports of patients being purged from transplant lists across California, as well as in other medical marijuana states like Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington. In 2008, Seattle resident and medical marijuana patient Timothy Garon died after being denied a liver transplant by the University of Washington Medical Center. A year later, in 2009, Big Island resident and medical marijuana patient Kimberly Reyes died at Hilo Hospital after being denied a liver transplant.
Norman, Timothy, Kimberly, Toni and all of the other patients who have benefited from medical marijuana deserve better from our health care system. Norman knew best how politics have trumped science and medicine, and he paid for it with his life.
Norman will not be forgotten, and his wish that no one else follow in his footsteps is a rallying cry for the rest of us to change harmful policies such as those indefensibly upheld by Cedars and hospitals like it.