Medicinal marijuana
A man receives rolled cannabis from a distribution center run in Tel Aviv. The drug's effects are now being studied. Photo by Reuters
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Five oncology departments at Israeli hospitals have been licensed to prescribe marijuana to cancer patients, the Health Ministry said on Sunday. The ministry sees the move as a pilot program, and a list of doctors from various hospitals is being drawn up in a bid to allow access to marijuana for patients nationwide.

The director-general of the Health Ministry, Dr. Ronny Gamzo, awarded the permits to Sheba Medical Center, Ichilov Hospital, Assaf Harofeh Hospital, Rambam Medical Center and Rebecca Sieff Hospital. Cancer patients there will be allowed to grow and use marijuana to help relieve their suffering.

In a conference in May, the director of Abarbanel Mental Health Center, Dr. Yehuda Baruch, said the ministry also plans to license directors of departments at health-maintenance organizations to prescribe the drug. The ministry has appointed Baruch to oversee treatment.

Baruch had hitherto been the only official in the country allowed to prescribe marijuana, based on requests by doctors. The ministry now expects a sharp rise in the prescription of the drug, with some 5,000 Israelis receiving permission by the end of the year. When the licensing process concludes, tens of thousands of Israelis will be treated with marijuana, the ministry said.

The process to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes began last year at the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee; the Israeli Medical Association is now compiling detailed guidelines. Baruch is also working to set up a nonprofit organization that would allow the awarding of licenses.

To date, 14 farms have been licensed. Three are already producing and three are set to begin growing over the coming month. But eight have had their license suspended in the run-up to a tender.

The Health Ministry recently permitted the farms to charge NIS 360 for a month's supply of marijuana to each patient.

Most licenses for medical marijuana in Israel go to sufferers of chronic pain, including cancer patients and sufferers of HIV/AIDS. They also go to sufferers of multiple sclerosis, glaucoma and asthma, and Israel Defense Forces veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.