Amy Hauser is a 50-year-old medical student in the Bay Area. She wants to work in hospice care, stating she “has a calling for it.” While laboring away through nursing school, Hauser has enjoyed her time volunteering at various Bay Area hospitals.
“I really do enjoy spending time with people at the end of life,” Hauser says. She sometimes takes along her ukulele, playing music for her patients. Other times she simply enjoys their presence, holding patients’ hands and doing her best to make them feel their best at this critical point of their life.
Medical Marijuana Patients Forbidden to Volunteer at Kaiser
Up until a week ago, Hauser was volunteering at Kaiser Permanente. Then hospital officials told her she couldn’t volunteer with hospice patients if she tests positive for cannabis. Hauser is a registered medical marijuana patient in the state of California.
Hauser was almost completed with the volunteer hospice training program at Kaiser Permanente when she was told she would need to pass a drug test prior to volunteering. Although she knew that this policy for paid employees, she says she didn’t think it mattered for volunteers. Hauser notes she’s volunteered at other private health care facilities in the past, and her medical cannabis use hasn’t been a problem.
Hauser is currently taking medical cannabis to treat her insomnia, anxiety, and PTSD she says was caused by domestic violence in a past relationship. She also takes a prescribed antidepressant but has been hesitant to take other medications to manage the sleepless nights, bouts of anxiousness, and symptoms of PTSD. Medical marijuana, Hauser says, has significantly improved her quality of life.
She says she explained this all to the volunteer coordinator at Kaiser, who let her know that it shouldn’t present a problem. Apparently, the hospital sees things differently. Hauser received a copy of an updated policy to let her know that, although medical marijuana is legal in California, Kaiser must uphold a drug-free environment because it contracts with the federal government.
Federal Crackdown Hits Some Hard
Recent federal crackdowns on cannabis have created a grey area in for several legal cannabis consumers and business owners alike. In Hauser’s case, these federal restrictions are keeping her from volunteering her time to people facing the end of their life.
“We have a saying in hospice,” says Hauser, “’I can’t add days to your life, but I can add life to your days.’ I can’t do that right now.”
Because she is committed to working with hospice patients and volunteering with Kaiser, Hauser has stopped using medical marijuana. She’s determined to follow her dreams, which, for now, will mean passing a drug test.
She says that she’s already feeling the effects of not medicating with marijuana only a week in. “I’m not going to get the sleep I need. My anxiety is going to be significantly worse, and I’m not going to be as present for my family.”
Still, marijuana (medical or otherwise) remains illegal at the federal level, despite how many people’s lives it has improved. Hauser is but one of countless legal medical marijuana patients across the country who are directly impacted by the outdated marijuana policies still be enacted by the federal government.