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States Move to Exclude Marijuana Consults from Telemedicine Laws

Florida proposes amending its telemedicine laws to prevent marijuana consults, following the lead set by Colorado, Illinois and Washington.

By Eric Wicklund

- Telemedicine may be good for any number of healthcare issues, but Florida lawmakers don’t want the platform used for prescribing medical marijuana.

Taking a page from Colorado’s regulations, Florida’s Board of Medicine has proposed an amendment to the state’s telemedicine regulations that would prohibit physicians from prescribing medical cannabis or low-THC cannabis through a virtual visit.

Florida is one of 29 states and Washington D.C. that have legalized medical marijuana since 1973, when Oregon became the first state to decriminalize the drug. Eight states have legalized marijuana for both medical and recreational uses.

The groundswell of support across the nation for marijuana use – four states legalized recreational marijuana in November, and another four approved ballot measures legalizing medical marijuana – has also given rise to telemedicine platforms designed to connect users with prescribing doctors and dispensaries. Nationally, the medical marijuana industry is expected to pull in almost $7 billion by the end of 2016.

“Delivery has been convenient and private, and patients wanted their doctor’s appointment to be convenient and private as well,” A.J. Gentile, who launched a marijuana-laced gummy bear company called SpeedWeed in 2011, told Forbes magazine in an interview earlier this year.

The California-based, 70-employee company, on track to serve 26,000 patients and double last year’s revenue of $2.5 million, has an online platform on which customers can meet with a physician, get a prescription and then place an order.

Another company, MarijuanaDoctors.com, launched in September, offering an online portal through which “qualified patients to remotely connect with a qualified and licensed marijuana doctor on-demand, and in real-time, from a secure and trusted online platform.”

The company also seeks to help physicians gain “the ability to not only become relevant in the online medical marijuana space, but also cement their digital footprint ultimately allowing them to rise in the relevant search rankings, online.”

“Marijuana doctors are in a position to cut costs and save time, making their practice more profitable,” the company states in a press release. “The telemedicine portal provides physicians with calendaring abilities, a patient verification service, and a vital patient symptom tracker. Telemedicine medical marijuana doctors also have unlimited access to a recommendation generator for each legal medical marijuana state, with the added ability of being able to acquire a digital upload of the patient’s driver’s license, and digital signature, as well.”

State medical boards, ever wary of telemedicine’s effect on the physician-patient relationship, soon began to take notice. Earlier this year, legislators in Colorado – the first state to legalize recreational marijuana use – amended their telemedicine regulations to specifically exclude medical marijuana consults. Lawmakers in Illinois followed suit soon after, while Washington fnow requires physicians to conduct an in-person exam before prescribing the drug.

"Some states that allow medical cannabis have not directly addressed the issue of recommending cannabis through telemedicine, leaving doctors with little guidance on whether they will face consequences for engaging in this practice," Daniel Short, of the Canna Law Group, said in a 2015 blog.

California, which legalized medical marijuana in 1996, takes a more lenient approach. Researchers have estimated that one in 20 residents has tried the drug since then, helping to create a multi-million-dollar industry.

"The initial examination for the condition for which marijuana is being recommended must be an appropriate prior examination and meet the standard of care,” the state’s statute cites. “Telehealth, in compliance with Business and Professions Code section 2290.5, is a tool in the practice of medicine and does not change the standard of care."

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