Florida lawmakers passed legislation last week to allow medicinal cannabis patients to renew their medical marijuana recommendation with a physician via telehealth appointments. The measure, House Bill 387, was passed by the Florida House of Representatives on Thursday after the state Senate approved an amended version of the legislation earlier in the day. The bill, which also includes provisions to help Black farmers obtain licenses to cultivate medical marijuana, now heads to the desk of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis for consideration. 

Under the bill, patients seeking treatment with medical marijuana would still be required to conduct an in-person office visit with a physician to receive an original recommendation and state-issued medical marijuana identification card. Once approved to use marijuana, however, House Bill 387 would allow patients to complete required renewal consultations with a doctor through a remote telehealth appointment. Currently, Florida state law requires patients to receive an updated recommendation to use medical marijuana every 210 days, or approximately seven months.

Medical marijuana patients in Florida were permitted to renew their medical marijuana recommendations via telehealth appointments temporarily under emergency rules put in place in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. House Bill 387 would make permanent that policy, which expired in June 2020, and allow patients to once again renew their medical marijuana authorization by visiting with their physician via a telehealth appointment.

“[The bill] would treat the use of medical marijuana just like other medicines in the state of Florida,” Republican state Representative Spencer Roach, the sponsor of the bill, said after introducing the legislation earlier this year. “We sort of had an unforced trial run with this in Florida for approximately eight months. [We] really didn’t see any problems there.”

Last week’s passage of the bill was welcomed by Kim Rivers, CEO of Trulieve, Florida’s largest medical marijuana provider with more than 120 licensed dispensaries statewide.

“We are supportive of anything that increases accessibility for medical patients,” Rivers wrote in a message to High Times.

House Bill 387 also includes provisions to help Black farmers in Florida obtain licenses to cultivate medical marijuana. 

After voters passed Amendment 2, the 2016 ballot measure that legalized medical marijuana in Florida, state regulators established a vertically integrated infrastructure that limited medicinal cannabis production and sales to a few regulated companies. Under the amendment, at least one medical marijuana cultivation was supposed to be issued to a Black farmer who was a “recognized class member” in class-action lawsuits over lending discrimination by the federal government known as the Pigford litigation, according to a report from Orlando Weekly.

But under the plan, no Black farmers were licensed to cultivate medical marijuana for the state’s patients for two years. A group of Black farmers sued the state, and in September, Terry Gwynn became the first Black grower to receive a license to cultivate medical marijuana. Other farmers who applied for the license but were not successful have continued the legal action, however.

House Bill 387 authorizes up to a dozen additional licenses for Pigford class farmers. After the bill passed, lawmakers praised the legislation to bring more fairness to Florida’s medical marijuana cultivation infrastructure.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Democratic state Senator Darryl Rouson. “The Black farmers were already victimized, and this Legislature in 2017 started to make that situation right.”

“Today we’re going to make history not just because we’re going to make good on the Pigford litigation that started back in 2017, six years ago,” Roach added, “but you’re going to make history today because for the first time in the House, Representative (Angie) Nixon has spoken in favor of one of my bills.”

Nixon praised her colleagues in the House for passing the bill with the Senate’s amendments.

“This is a great deal,” Nixon said. “I’m happy that the Black farmers will have the opportunity to get a license because of it.”

House Bill 387 passed with strong bipartisan support, passing in the Senate by a vote of 38-0 on Thursday. The measure also received unanimous approval in the House of Representatives later in the day, passing by a vote of 105-0.

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