In a landmark move for cannabis access through telehealth services nationwide, New Jersey residents can now get approved for medical cannabis and other controlled substances in digital visits due to the restrictions placed on healthcare by the COVID-19 pandemic. Healthcare professionals can now set up virtual appointments in order to prescribe medical cannabis to patients, or other controlled substances such as painkillers.
On these videos, as specified by state law, providers must discuss both risks and benefits of opiates and alternatives, give all necessary information about medical cannabis, check in with the Prescription Monitoring Program for anything they prescribe, and only give out a five-day supply for acute pain diagnoses when opiates are concerned. In short, doctors will be held to the same standards they have to answer to when prescribing to patients in person.
“New Jersey health care practices are again offering in-person services, but telehealth remains an important option for patients and providers,” said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal regarding this new ruling. “Today, we’re making it easier for patients to choose telehealth services for any reason, including to avoid an in-person visit due to the continuing risk of COVID-19.”
The Division of Consumer Affairs (DCA) claims that this new policy is a new effort to comply with the state-mandated directive that suggests telemedicine as the preferred alternative to in-person care when possible, in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. The governor would like to see as many healthcare visits as possible take place over video in order to lessen strain on medical personnel.
The Legal Fine Print
In order to make sure everything is legal and compliant, the DCA also made sure this new telemedicine directive lines up with guidance from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), who have granted a temporary waiver allowing practitioners to prescribe drugs over the Internet with no in-person contact. In order to make sure those guidelines are met, prescriptions must be for a legitimate medical reason, done over a real-time telemedicine care, and consistent with the rules for the state. This policy will remain the law of the land until either the state of emergency designation ends or the health emergency designation ends.
“This action temporarily removes barriers to providing patients with the medications they need to treat chronic pain and other diseases during the COVID-19 crisis,” said Paul Rodríguez, acting director of the DCA.
“The end of the telemedicine allowance designated by the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services on March 16, based upon the public health emergency declared by the secretary on Jan. 31, 2020,” the DCA’s official ruling states.
“This will ensure that those in need of vital prescriptions are able to get them, without unnecessarily putting themselves, fellow patients and their healthcare providers at risk of exposure to COVID-19,” Rodríguez said.
COVID-19 has put a major strain on cannabis across the country, and of course, on the healthcare community. By allowing patients cannabis access via telehealth, both the medical and cannabis communities are receiving relief, and the stigma on cannabis medicine is fading even faster.