Until recently, the term “telehealth” was known in the medical community, but not the cannabis community.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak sent the country into lockdown, medical marijuana users in many states can now check in with a health care provider by video for authorization, rather than an in-person meeting.
According to MPP.org, 31 states currently allow telemedicine for cannabis patients – 11 of which have temporarily altered their laws as a result of the current coronavirus pandemic.
The following 11 states also allow patients to receive virtual advisement for medical marijuana prescriptions under the stay-at-home/safer-at-home orders put in place across the country: Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio and Rhode Island.
Each state is slightly different in their protocols for telehealth authorization. Some may allow virtual calls for renewals of medical marijuana authorization, but require an in-person visit to a prescribing physician for new patients. Other states may do it the other way around. Washington and Vermont allow renewals to be distributed via telehealth, but new patients must be seen by a prescribing physician.
Washington has actually been ahead of the national curve when it comes to telemedicine in general and with cannabis. Senate Bill 5175, which enabled telehealth for medical marijuana use, was passed in the 2015 session. Telemedicine here does not include audio-only or email-only consultations; the medical provider must meet with the patient via full audio and video technology.
But what happens when the country fully re-opens?
Many liquor and cannabis laws have been temporarily relaxed across the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the ability to pick up orders from a vehicle after placing an order online.
If these amended rules continue, will telehealth check-ins and authorizations remain available for cannabis and in general?
Organizations such as the Public Health Institute (PHI) have created programs that provide governmental leaders with tools to adopt and implement indefinite policy changes. It has been working to change medical marijuana laws for several years.
In a May 20 article, PHI explored the possibilities of post-COVID-19 telehealth as it relates to marijuana. While it seems likely that some states will return to pre-COVID days as much as possible, it also seems probable that some states will see this as the push they needed to move their medicinal marijuana efforts to a more technologically-driven interface.
This health emergency has also shone a light on the digital divide in ways that haven’t previously been illuminated. It’s possible that states like Washington may permit audio consultations, as some segments of the population may not have access to the necessary tools and technologies for video calls.
In reality, a good portion of citizens may feel uncomfortable resuming previous norms until a vaccine is available, and will want to continue using telehealth checks over in-person meetings for non-emergency medical services.