Republicans push for medical marijuana telehealth return

Florida state flag with marijuana leaf
Telehealth was popular among patients and doctors during the pandemic.

Legislation filed in both the House and the Senate would allow Florida’s medical marijuana patients to again have telehealth consultations, a practice that was tried and successful during the COVID-19 emergency in the state.

SB 164, the Senate version filed last month by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, drew companion legislation in the House Monday, when Pensacola Rep. Jayer Williamson filed HB 333.

The legislation requires an in-person initial consultation between a physician and a potential patient, but subsequent recertifications and renewals could be conducted through telehealth, potentially easing the burdens on patients with medical issues that make in-person consultations challenging.

The bill would change existing statute governing the medical marijuana program, and would, if approved, become law July 1, 2022. For most patients, one or two more in-person consultations would be required before they could use telehealth going forward.

Medical cannabis patients typically renew yearly, with a mandatory recertification in that year at the seven-month mark to reconsider and renew active recommendations.

Medical marijuana telehealth was borne of necessity last year.

Former Surgeon General Scott Rivkees issued an emergency order allowing existing medical cannabis patients to consult with their physicians remotely for renewals. Telehealth was not an approved method of consultation between doctors and cannabis patients for whom they issue recommendations.

“For purposes of preparing for, responding to, and mitigating any effect of COVID-19, qualified physicians under section 381.986, Florida Statutes, may issue a physician certification only for an existing qualified patient with an existing certification that was issued by that qualified physician without the need to conduct a physical examination while physically present in the same room as the patient,” the Surgeon General’s emergency order asserted.

That emergency order was extended a number of times, but eventually expired in June of this year.

The Brandes bill has three committee stops ahead: Health Policy, Judiciary, and Rules. The legislation has yet to be scheduled for its initial committee hearing.

The just-filed Williamson bill has yet to be referred to committees.

Worth noting: this bill is separate from other telehealth legislation, which has some observers worried.

Medical marijuana lobbyist Ron Watson told Florida Politics it won’t be an easy lift to get the bills through the Legislature even with Republicans supporting the change.

“I think we have some work to get it passed,” Watson said, saying that a “stand-alone” bill “has a long way to go in this environment.”

Watson likened the regulatory push to that for “alcohol-to-go,” something that was tried out during the pandemic and then became permanent thereafter.

While it’s uncertain what Gov. Ron DeSantis might do if the bill clears the House and the Senate, he has taken steps not to obstruct the industry.

Early in his term, DeSantis allowed smokable cannabis in 2019, a move that set him apart from former Gov. Rick Scott on the issue. He also refused to sign on to a legislative push to impose caps on THC,  the euphoria-inducing compound in cannabis.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at [email protected]


One comment

  • Charles

    October 18, 2021 at 6:32 pm

    Important
    Get this done on bipartisan vote

Comments are closed.


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