State considers permanent telehealth medical marijuana options

Telehealth has become a popular option, why not for cannabis patients?

Medical marijuana patients using telehealth procedures to obtain the medicinal herb during the coronavirus outbreak are having such success, state officials are considering making the option permanent.

Gov. Ron DeSantis extended telehealth services for obtaining medical cannabis during the state of emergency initially in March because of the coronavirus. He extended that provision another 60 days in May and is likely to extend it again for another  60 days July 7 when the provision expires.

Patients have found telehealth — meaning medical exams over computer or telephone video conferencing — to be so helpful members of the state’s Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services want to make it permanent.

Barry Gordon, a former emergency medical physician in Ohio and now the owner of Compassion Cannabis Clinic in Venice, is a member of the state board and said patients who need medical marijuana shouldn’t find it difficult to obtain. The COVID-19 crisis has proved telehealth is just as efficient for patients who require the drug.

“It’s excellent for the patients, convenience-wise, safety-wise and in a lot of other ways,” Gordon said. “The majority of the patients can find that they can integrate it into their lifestyle in an appropriate way and don’t need a lot of further medical advice.”

An initial in-person physical examination is still required between a patient and physician before a recommendation can be given, Gordon said.

He said the board would still want that requirement if telehealth is eventually approved permanently.

The medical marijuana statute that legalized the drug in Florida in 2017 barred telehealth, although home delivery was permitted. Prohibiting telehealth follow-up examinations is becoming obsolete, according to Gordon.

“Those type of things are easily done in a [telehealth] consultation. I like to call it being a 2020 doctor and not adopting a 1980 philosophy,” he said. “We don’t know how long this COVID-19 crisis is going to last…. . It just makes sense. It’s a different society now.”

Holly Bell, director of cannabis for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said the telehealth option that was added during the coronavirus emergency has proven successful.

“What it does is allows those who are very vulnerable that don’t leave their home to be able to get their doctor’s appointments and have their follow ups without leaving the house. They see the doctor through telehealth,” Bell said.

Ultimately, Bell said she and some members of the committee will have to have some discussions with Agriculture Commissioer Nikki Fried.

A permanent change in the medical cannabis statute will have to be amended and will likely require legislative action to allow for permanent telehealth options.

Drew Dixon

Drew Dixon is a journalist of 40 years who has reported in print and broadcast throughout Florida, starting in Ohio in the 1980s. He is also an adjunct professor of philosophy and ethics at three colleges, Jacksonville University, University of North Florida and Florida State College at Jacksonville. You can reach him at [email protected].


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