Medical marijuana prescriptions could be obtained through virtual visits to doctors in New Jersey, under a bill comfortably passed Monday by the state Senate.

The bill, S619, allows patients to be authorized for medical marijuana by telemedicine, such as by videoconference, or telehealth, which includes telephones and remote monitoring devices. State law specifies that telemedicine doesn’t include audio-only phone calls, e-email, instant messaging or texts.

Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, the bill’s sponsor, said the drug has proven to be effective and greatly reduces or eliminates the use of opioids.

“There are a ton of folks who use this medication who have trouble getting out – some of them are very sick with cancer,” O’Scanlon said. “It’s a gray area whether medical marijuana can be prescribed this way or not. We need to make that clarification and have it be on the same level as every other drug.

O’Scanlon said the bill would greatly benefit people with limited mobility. For the first nine months after it is enacted, it would apply only to patients who live in a long-term care facility, have a developmental disability, are terminally ill, are receiving hospice care or are certified to be housebound.

“But also from a cost standpoint, there’s no need to burden people to go out over and over and over again to see doctors once they have an established relationship to be able to re-up their medication,” O’Scanlon said.

After nine months, the law would apply to all patients – but only those who have had at least one previous in-office consultation with the doctor authorizing the medical marijuana prescription.

“You do have to have established some relationship,��� O’Scanlon said. “We’re not opening the door here to, you know, 1-800-MARIJUANA and order it like a pizza.”

“This is a conservative expansion and clarification of the ability of people to get this efficacious drug through telemedicine,” he said. “Very reasonable and measured increase in access.”

The Senate passed the bill 36-1. Sen. Michael Doherty, R-Warren, was opposed, while Sens. Chris Connors and James Holzapfel, both R-Ocean, were present but didn’t vote. Sen. Joe Vitale, D-Middlesex, was absent.

The Assembly version of the bill, A1635, is awaiting consideration by the Assembly Health Committee. That panel next meets on March 5, though it currently has 176 bills pending from which the agenda for that meeting will be decided.

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