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An Online High: Telehealth Opens New Doors for Medical Marijuana

California's multi-million-dollar industry looks to video consults to connect patients, doctors and distributors

By Eric Wicklund

- Telemedicine is venturing into new territory in California, with the launch of two services designed to connect consumers with medical marijuana providers and their doctors.

California legalized medical marijuana in 1996, and researchers estimate one in 20 residents has tried the drug since then, helping to create a multi-million-dollar industry. Unlike recreational cannabis, which is illegal in the Golden State, medical cannabis requires a prescription from a certified physician – meaning a patient first has to visit a doctor for a prescription, then find a supplier to place an order.

SpeedWeed and Eaze are looking to make that process easier. Taking advantage of California’s 2011 Telehealth Advancement Act, the companies have established a secure online portal through which a consumer can talk to a board-certified physician, then place an order.

SpeedWeed launched in 2011 as a purveyor of marijuana-infused gummy bears, according to a recent profile in Forbes. Founders A.J. Gentile, his wife Jennifer and brother Gene say the 70-employee company is on track to serve 26,000 patients and double last year’s revenue of $2.5 million, and has ditched the edibles manufacturing side to focus on delivery.

Recently, SpeedWeed integrated HelloMD software to its platform to enable telemedicine consults with California-based healthcare providers.

“Delivery has been convenient and private, and patients wanted their doctor’s appointment to be convenient and private as well,” AJ Gentile told Forbes. He noted that market is crowded for marijuana delivery services, with some 400 based in the Los Angeles area alone, so the telemedicine platform is seen as a way to separate from the pack.

That’s what drew San Francisco-based Eaze into the online market. The company was founded in 2014, launched the EazeMD online platform this past June, and has just added iOS and Android apps, enabling users to have a video chat with a doctor for about $30 (all fees are handled by the physician).

“Since day one, our core mission has been to provide the easiest, quickest and most professional solution for medical marijuana patients,” CEO Keith McCarty, a former Yammer executive, said in a recent press release. “Now patients can connect with physicians anytime, anywhere, from the palm of their hand - and have their medication delivered to them almost immediately.”

Some 23 states have approved medical marijuana, while a handful (Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska) have also allowed recreational use, though it’s still illegal under federal laws. Recreational sales generally involve surcharges of up to 30 percent, ensuring that the medical marijuana industry isn’t negatively affected.

Still, the industry has struggled to move beyond the stigma of marijuana use, and discreet operations from locations that aren’t easily accessible or well-advertised. Companies like Eaze and SpeedWeed are looking to bridge that gap by enabling consumers to connect with doctors via any mobile device, then place an order if the prescription is granted.

The service also helps seriously ill or homebound patients who can’t get to medical marijuana dispensaries, as well as those who live in areas of the state – like Fresno – that have banned the dispensaries.

HelloMD, based in San Francisco, has been offering $49 online medical marijuana consultations for some time, and has worked with community health clinics on their telehealth initiatives. Perry Solomon, the company’s chief medical officer, recently told The Business Journal that the typical medical marijuana user isn’t the same as a recreational user – they’re “retirees, veterans and working professionals looking for alternative medicinal treatments for a wide variety of conditions ranging from chronic pain to everyday anxiety and stress.”

They “(don’t) know where to go for more information on medical marijuana, who to talk with, or how to become a legal patient,” he said. “Many had difficulty leaving their homes while others we afraid to venture into the parts of town where medical marijuana practitioners were likely to be found.”

“Customers like convenience and they really value their privacy,” added A.J. Gentile in the Forbes article. “A soccer mom isn’t going to pull her minivan into a pot dispensary.”

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