Fight over medical marijuana erupts over telemedicine rules | legislative branch

One of the drivers of explosive growth in Louisiana’s medical marijuana industry has been online platforms that allow patients to remotely receive a prescription for the drug through a telemedicine visit to a doctor.

But since COVID emergency rules ended this spring, the state medical board has maintained that telemedicine isn’t allowed for new medical marijuana patients. That position has put it at odds with key lawmakers championing the program and unsettled investors in the industry.

Tensions reached a boiling point this week when the state board of medical examiners rejected a proposal to allow doctors to use telemedicine to recommend marijuana to some patients. If successful, the move would have changed board policy to allow telemedicine for some new patients who want marijuana prescriptions.

It is unclear what the practical implications of the board’s position will be. Some lawmakers believe the law they passed will replace the committee’s powers, meaning telemedicine would still be allowed for new medical marijuana patients. The board says it only investigates and takes action against doctors when it receives a complaint. Telemedicine services are still operational — and have been for months, despite the board’s position.

But advocates fear the conflict will create another obstacle for patients who already face high prices, sporadic supplies and a limited number of pharmacies. Lawmakers have resisted increasing the number of growers and pharmacies in the program, although some new satellite pharmacy locations are expected to open in the coming months.

Rep. Joe Marino, a Gretna independent who has advocated for medical marijuana, criticized the board’s decision and said he believes a section of a bill passed this year aimed at allowing telemedicine for marijuana patients protect, overrides the position of the board of directors.

“I think it will be very detrimental to the program,” Marino said. ‚ÄúThis program is already plagued by a lack of accessible and affordable medicines. This makes the accessible part much more difficult for people with debilitating medical conditions.

“As of today, I would expect that if any doctors are sanctioned in any way for recommending medical marijuana in the way the legislature intended, I think they will have a lawsuit against the board for violating this law.” have not complied with.”

State Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, who was instrumental in getting the medical marijuana program passed into law a few years ago, said the board shouldn’t be concerned with “micromanaging” doctors.

“I just have faith in a doctor that they know when they need to see a patient live and in person and when they can prescribe it via telemedicine,” he said.

But the executive director of the board, Dr. Vincent Culotta, in an interview, noted that federal law states that prescriptions for “controlled and dangerous substances” require in-person visits. The committee’s rules allow telemedicine for follow-up visits, but require an in-person visit for an initial medical marijuana recommendation.

Board members contacted for comment referred to a statement by Board Chairman Dr. Lester Johnson, who said the board believes its current policies on telemedicine are consistent with the law. Johnson said the board instructed employees to identify legislative changes needed to achieve what Marino wants.

“This would have to include changes to both therapeutic marijuana and telemedicine laws, which currently do not match,” Johnson said. But he added that the medical board has been reluctant to make those changes because of the “probable possibility” that lawmakers will change the law further in the 2023 session.

Gary Hess, CEO of marijuana telemedicine company Teleleaf, said his company still provides telemedicine referrals for medical marijuana. But he said he’s exploring what the board position means to his business.

Hess, a veteran who advocates medical marijuana for other veterans, said his company saw significant growth in patients earlier this year when Flower, the popular smokable form of the drug, hit shelves. But he said patients are still short of options.

“If something needs to happen in Louisiana, we need to work to provide easier and better access for patients in need,” he said.