Telehealth services that were made available to Florida’s medical marijuana patients due to the coronavirus pandemic may become a permanent option.
That’s according to the web publication Florida Politics, which reported this week that the temporary provision first established at the outset of the COVID-19 outbreak—and then extended in May—might become a fixture in the state’s medical cannabis program.
The state’s Department of Health unveiled emergency rules back in March that allowed licensed physicians in Florida to see their patients and issue prescriptions remotely. The state’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis extended telehealth services for medical marijuana patients another 60 days in May. Now, with the provision set to expire this week—and the coronavirus experiencing a resurgence in states such as Florida—some advocates think it needs to be extended indefinitely.
“It’s excellent for the patients, convenience-wise, safety-wise and in a lot of other ways,” Barry Gordon, a former physician in Ohio who now owns a cannabis clinic in Venice, Florida, told Florida Politics. “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.”
Gordon continued: “Those types of things are easily done in a [telehealth] consultation. I like to call it being a 2020 doctor and not adopting a 1980 philosophy. 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, told the website that a decision on the telehealth option will be made in consultation with the Department of Agriculture. Florida Politics noted that 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.”
The Sunshine State and Medical Cannabis
Florida’s medical marijuana program was established four years ago, when more than 70 percent of voters in the state approved a measure legalizing the treatment. Earlier this year, just prior to the pandemic and ensuing lockdown measures, the Florida legislature took up a bill that aimed to ban medical marijuana with THC levels exceeding 10 percent potency for patients under the age of 21.
The measure’s chief proponent, Republican state Sen. Gayle Harrell, took issue with the state’s current law, arguing that it caps THC at levels far greater than what most patients would need to consume.
“I have been very concerned about this,” Harrell told the Miami Herald. “You’re seeing increasing percentages of THC in marijuana. This is not your granddaddy’s marijuana from the ‘60s.”
Residents in the Sunshine State will have to wait a bit longer before legal recreational weed lands within their borders. An effort to get a recreational weed proposal on this year’s ballot fell short, and the advocates behind the effort have now shifted their focus to the 2022 ballot.
Still, there’s good reason to believe that Floridians are ready for the change. A Quinnipiac University poll released last summer found that 65 percent of voters there support legalizing possession of pot for personal use.