Why can’t new cannabis patients use telemedicine in some states?

hand holding a phone with marijuana in the background

Table of contents

  1. Why cannabis consultations don’t need to be in-person
  2. Which states require an in-person examination for new patients?
  3. Will initial cannabis telemedicine consultations be allowed soon?

Some states only allow cannabis patients to use telemedicine to renew existing medical marijuana certifications. This means that new patients cannot access vital online services in some states to get the medical marijuana cards they need.

When COVID-19 hit in the spring of 2020, a swathe of Emergency Orders legalized telemedicine in states where cannabis laws didn’t already allow for virtual consultations.

With most of the population under stay-at-home restrictions, it was suddenly impossible to walk into a physician’s office. States implemented temporary legislation to ensure continued access to vital medical services, including medical cannabis. The legalization meant that people could get their medical marijuana card using telemedicine, even as other parts of society and day-to-day life were closed.

Emergency Orders are now being partially renewed — or stopped altogether — despite the ongoing threat of COVID-19 in many states. We’ve seen several localities preventing new cannabis patients from using telemedicine to get their cards.

But why? What does an in-person appointment achieve that telemedicine cannot?

We believe there is no need for an in-person meeting and that the option for medical cannabis patients to use telemedicine should remain available.

Why cannabis consultations don’t need to be in-person

A medical cannabis consultation with a physician is a meeting to determine whether the patient benefits from cannabis. The consultation is not a diagnosis.

While medical cannabis certifiers are healthcare providers, their role is not to diagnose a patient with a qualifying condition. Instead, they speak with the patient, discuss the condition or symptoms that may be relieved by medical cannabis, and come to a professional decision. They may also request to see medical records from other providers, which include details of the diagnosis.

A telemedicine consultation is a service where the patient can provide all the information the physician may need from the comfort of their own home. This conversation does not need to be in person, and the patient can upload any medical records electronically onto a HIPAA-secure platform like Leafwell. According to the expertise of countless healthcare providers who use the Leafwell platform, a physical examination should not be necessary. 

It’s a conversation, not an examination.

And a conversation can be had via video conference or over the phone, depending on the state. Suppose states are concerned about doctors recommending cannabis to new patients. In that case, doctors should note that establishing a bonafide physician-patient relationship via a face-to-face meeting online is entirely feasible. Doctors also have access to patient medical records, so diagnoses are more often than not wholly genuine and not spurious. However, for many states, this access to cannabis-using telemedicine is restricted.

Which states require an in-person examination for new patients?

There are several states whose laws demand that any new patient determines to the medical cannabis program meet their healthcare provider in person. These states include:

Cannabis telemedicine laws in Minnesota and New Hampshire also require patients to meet with the same healthcare provider each year. While maintaining some continuity and ongoing relationships can be valuable, this can be difficult with physicians moving practices or even states and forcing their patients to start over with someone new and potentially delaying their access to medicine.

Will initial cannabis telemedicine consultations be allowed soon?

Change is coming, and COVID-19 proved to millions of citizens (and many legislative bodies) the value of telemedicine.

Beyond that, medical cannabis is becoming increasingly popular, understood, and accepted. Taken together, we believe that the cannabis laws around telemedicine will start to change, and there are several states with pending legislation seeking to enshrine these rights permanently into their medical cannabis program.

Some states are already starting to reverse their decisions related to their Emergency Orders. Massachusetts, for example, passed legislation that prevented new patients from getting certified online at the start of September 2021 but reversed it three weeks later. This is a clear demonstration of states not understanding the value of telemedicine until their electorate vocalizes their opinions. Luckily, Massachusetts listened and made the right decision to undo their restrictions.

It can be hard to keep up with what you can and can’t do using telemedicine for medical cannabis patients. If you’re unsure what is legal in your state, check out our state medical cannabis law pages. Alternatively, speak with one of our knowledgeable customer service team today and determine if you can get your medical marijuana card using telemedicine today.

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