Florida bill would ban the use of telemedicine to prescribe medical marijuana

By Heather Mack
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Over the last five years, there has been considerable traction in two non-traditional approaches to healthcare: implementation of telemedicine, and the prescribing of marijuana to treat some health conditions. But some states are nervous about the two overlapping, choosing to specifically ban the use of telemedicine to prescribe medical marijuana at the same time as expanding legal use of the substance in a healthcare setting.

Last week, the Florida Legislature passed two bills to expand the use of medical marijuana for patients who meet specific eligibility parameters. But one line stipulates that same level of acceptance of the oft-debated drug will not hold up for Florida patients during virtual visits.

Under the new bill, which is expected to be signed into law by Florida Governor Rick Scott soon, patients must be in the same physical location as the doctor during the examination to ascertain whether they qualify for medical cannabis. By extension, that means any Florida resident who wants to get a medical marijuana certification cannot do so through virtual visits.

The restriction didn’t come about overnight. The Florida Board of Medicine was floating the idea of barring physicians from using telemedicine technology to order medical marijuana since last year, and in December issued an amendment to proposed telemedicine regulations to highlight the restriction on medical marijuana.

It’s a complex situation for states to navigate, considering the patchwork of federal, state and local laws around medical marijuana use as well as the state-by-state nature of telemedicine laws. California, which was the first state to approve the legal use of medical marijuana, doesn’t prohibit the use of telemedicine to acquire the substance. But even Colorado – by far the most liberal state in the nation in terms of legal marijuana use (even if not for medicinal purposes) – still requires an in-person examination prior to any virtual visit to obtain medical cannabis.

One startup is providing telemedicine visits specifically for cannabis prescription. HelloMD, a service that uses telemedicine to connect people with doctors willing and able to prescribe medical marijuana, recently raised more than a million dollars via equity crowdfunding on SeedInvest.