Medicinal marijuana
Growing facility for the Tikun Olam company near the northern city of Safed. Photo by Reuters
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The Health Ministry on Sunday authorized doctors from five Israeli different hospitals to prescribe medical marijuana to patients suffering from cancer and chronic pain.

The ministry is launching a pilot program meant to increase the number of doctors allowed to prescribe marijuana for medicinal purposes.

According to a ministry official, in the future department managers in the kupot holim, the Israeli health maintenance organizations, will be able to prescribe medical marijuana to patients.

The ministry estimates that in 2010 there will be an increase of 66 percent in the permits for medical marijuana, allowing treatment for about 5000 patients. In future, the ministry expects tens of thousands of patients to be treated with medical marijuana.

Most prescriptions for medical marijuana are given to patients suffering from chronic pain, including patients with fibromyalgia, cancer, HIV/AIDS, neurological disorders, multiple sclerosis, asthma and glaucoma, as well as to Israel Defense Forces veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Until now, 14 Israeli farms have been given permits to grow marijuana legally for medicinal use, but only three are currently operating. The health ministry recently approved a monthly fee of NIS 360 per medical marijuana user to cover growing expenses.

Israel is obligated by international treaty to establish a government agency regulating the distribution of marijuana and opium for medicinal purposes, but has not done so.

In recent months police have warned of the involvement of criminal gangs in producing medical marijuana. In May, police tightened supervision of medical marijuana growers and introduced new security measures for transporting legal marijuana plants.