New Jersey medical marijuana patients could soon be able to get prescribed over the phone or video chat under a bill lawmakers are considering, which proponents argue could greatly benefit homebound patients in the state.
Senate Bill 619 would allow physicians taking part in the medical marijuana program to remotely give prescriptions to patients via “telemedicine” or “telehealth,” which includes sessions via the phone, or video chat on a computer or phone.
The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Services Committee approved the measure Monday afternoon, though there does not appear to be an Assembly version.
The measure marks a push to expand the state’s marijuana program, which has more than 66,000 patients served by seven dispensaries – as well as more than 2,000 caregivers and 1,000 doctors.
S619 would take effect the day it is signed into law, and for the first 270 days, only patients who cannot physically travel to a doctor’s office could receive telemedicine prescriptions, including patients at long-term care facilities, hospice care patients, those terminally ill, and those who can show that they are homebound.
After that nine-month window, all other patients could receive a telemedicine prescription, provided they first make an in-person visit to the doctor’s office.
Jessie Gill, a registered nurse who founded a Woodbridge-based telehealth service Cannabis Education Group two years ago, said that the bill would be a huge leap forward to homebound patients.
“Just in this past month, I’ve had [family members of] three patients contact me because they’re housebound and very old and they weren’t able to get into the program because they couldn’t get to an appointment. It’s heartbreaking, and there are no options,” Gill said.
“You have to find a doctor that’s willing to do a house call, and not many are willing to do house calls nowadays. And when you do find that, they want to be compensated above and beyond. A lot of the patients coming to medical marijuana, they barely have the money to cover their medication.”
The measure has the backing from the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey, according to its executive director Ken Wolski.
The bill allows doctors to prescribe up to two weeks of medical cannabis to a patient still in the midst of registering for the program, while they wait for their application to clear.
In July, the governor signed a measure dramatically expanding the program. It increases how much medicinal cannabis a patient can buy at any one time, and writes into law the Murphy administration’s added list of medical conditions that makes a person eligible for the program.
Still, the expansion has been largely stuck in court—in December, a judge put a halt to the health department’s review of 150 applicants, after 51 applicants out of a pool of 200 businesses had their bids rejected due to technical errors from the submitting portal. A judge upheld that decision in January.