Israel Eases Restrictions on Medical Marijuana Use and Possession

New directives allow patients to use cannabis oil or vapor in public — but smoking outside your home is still banned

Medical marijuana.
Medical marijuana. Olivier Fitoussi

Israel's Health Ministry recently released new directives easing restrictions on the possession and use of medical marijuana by authorized users. The directives, which go into effect immediately, allow patients who have been prescribed marijuana to consume the drug in public as oil or as vapor.

However, smoking cannabis, the method that most patients in Israel use, is still banned in public.

Permits for the use of medical marijuana have until now been very strict: Patients were only allowed to use it at the address listed in the permit, usually their home, and not in the presence of another person. Possession of marijuana was also restricted to the user’s home.

The Health Ministry’s medical marijuana unit said that the restrictions caused unnecessary bureaucracy, for example if a patient with a permit went on vacation or changed address, he or she had to apply to the unit for a change in the permit.

“We felt that a lot of bureaucracy was created over nothing,” the head of the cannabis unit, Yuval Landschaft, told Haaretz.

Patients taking cannabis oil, including children and those with severe epilepsy, drip the oil into their mouth or on food. The new directives allow patients to take it anywhere. Patients who take the cannabis as vapor (by heating it in a special apparatus), may also take it anywhere it is not specifically prohibited, although they may not use it in the presence of another person, and specific prohibitions apply to schools or elsewhere where minors are present as well as airports, and for operators of heavy equipment or public transportation.

For patients who ingest marijuana by smoking it, not much has changed. “In smoking, even cannabis, other combustible materials are involved and the results of the burning can harm others,” Lanschaft said.

About 30,000 patients in Israel have permits for medical marijuana, and the list of medical indications for it is growing.

The chairman of the interministerial committee on medical cannabis said recent procedural changes in medical cannabis use “are part of the medicalization of medical cannabis as much as possible. We see great value in helping make things easier for patients who need it.”