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Since 2015, California law says you can't disqualify a potential donor because of cannabis use. Still, it is a factor that doctors take into account when determining who is the best candidate.
Within 10 days of being sent to the hospital for pneumonia, 19-year-old Riley Hancey's lungs collapsed. He needed a new pair, but the University of Utah hospital refused to put him on the transplant list. Hancey's dad says he had tested positive for THC.
"Riley was not a big pot smoker," said Hancey's dad Mike. "He did smoke pot. He's a 19-year-old ski guy. It's not like he's a smoker for 30 years and has deteriorating lungs because of that."
The hospital said in a statement, "We do not transplant organs in patients with active alcohol, tobacco, or illicit drug use or dependencies until these issues are addressed."
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"We've recently liberalized our criteria regarding marijuana," said Dr. Ryutaro Hirose who is a transplant surgeon at UCSF, the country's busiest transplant center.
Unlike the hospital in Utah, UCSF and other medical centers in California are forbidden by state law to deny a patient solely because of marijuana use. UCSF no longer tests for THC.
But they do ask patients if they use marijuana and other substances and to what extent -- one of many questions doctors say helps them determine who will thrive post-surgery.
"We don't have enough organs to go around for all the people who need them, and so what we do in terms of selection is to try and determine who is going to do best," said Hirose.
As for Riley, he eventually got a lung transplant in Philadelphia. He's expected to remain in the hospital for the next year.
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