Vivian Tellis, the director of the transplant program at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, says that he would never turn somebody down because of a history of marijuana use or abuse. Because medical marijuana is not allowed in New York, most of those cases involve recreational use.
"There is no known contraindication between marijuana and the drugs you have to take after transplant," Tellis said.
Tellis explains that an addictive personality is of concern "because if you're high, you don't take your [post-transplant regimen of] pills."
Transplant centers tend to be very careful because they survive financially based on the number of successful transplants they do, explains Maxwell J. Mehlman, director of the Law-Medicine Center at Case Western Reserve University.
"They use a screening process to avoid people who might be failures and they look at several factors from drug use to having a support system," he said.
"It has actually been a source of bioethical controversy because it allows them to reject homeless people and people who live alone. In some cases, it's a backdoor way of rationing based on social worth and lifestyles."
Transplant centers insist that their utmost goal is to get organs to people who need them the most and ensuring patient safety.
The United Network of Organ Sharing, which includes 254 U.S. transplant centers, has no policy on the use of drugs or marijuana and leaves it up to their individual members to set reasonable guidelines.
Simchen, who is studying history and anthropology at a community college, is getting help from friends and strangers who are trying to get him into a transplant program.
"I've got hope that we can find a center that will put me on the list. I just wish it would happen in Washington, where I live."