TAMPA, Fla. — Barbara Cepelak found a silver lining during the pandemic. All of her son's doctor appointments turned virtual, eliminating the need for her to physically take Shaun to various specialists.
Shaun, 30, lives with cerebral palsy and has been on a feeding tube and in a wheelchair his entire life. Taking him out of the house is a time-consuming and at times, physically exhausting ordeal for Cepelak who is his caregiver.
That's why during the start of the pandemic, when Cepelak was able to re-up Shaun's medical marijuana certification via telehealth thanks to an emergency order signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, she deeply appreciated the flexibility.
Medical marijuana is a lifeline for Shaun. After 28 years of daily seizures and countless medications, Barbara Cepelak says a CBD patch applied to his arm changed everything. He stopped having so many seizures and finally sleeps through the night.
The governor's emergency order expired in June 2021 and the Cepelaks will be forced back to in-person visits.
Florida law requires those who rely on medical marijuana to be evaluated and recertified by their provider in person every seven months.
"To go to the doctor for a visit that’s 15 minutes could take me four hours. For something like cannabis, nothing has changed, his disease will never get better. Why? Everyday is a challenge, why add to the challenge already there," Cepelak said.
A new bill filed by Reps. Andrew Learned, D-Brandon, and Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers, would add new rules to Florida's medical marijuana industry.
One of the changes includes expanding the use of telehealth for medical marijuana patients.
"I think it’s a very helpful thing," said Dr. David Berger of Wholistic Pediatrics & Family Care.
Berger says he is one of the few practicing pediatricians in the state with the required medical marijuana certification.
He's seen cannabis lower irritability and aggression in children with autism, reduce seizures in patients, help decrease depression and anxiety and even assist people in coming off pain medication.
Berger believes this bill makes the medical marijuana industry in Florida more patient-centered.
In addition to expanding telehealth, the bill would:
- Require cannabis doctors to complete six-hour training before being certified to prescribe marijuana to patients. Right now, only two hours are required.
- Expand patients' registration cards to last two years instead of one.
- Restrict medical marijuana advertising.
- Create a Medical Marijuana Testing Advisory Council to expand the testing of cannabis products.