Israeli Anti-drug Agency Seeks Faster Granting of Medical Marijuana Permits

Authority opposes broader legalization, but ad campaign emphasizes that it backs medical use of pot.

Daniel Tchetchik

The Anti-Drug and Alcohol Authority this week launched a radio-ad campaign calling for quicker granting of permits for the use of medical marijuana.

“Do you know that coconuts cause more deaths every year than shark attacks?” a man says in the spot. “Yeah, and pretty soon you’re going to tell me that the Anti-Drug and Alcohol Authority supports medical marijuana,” comes the reply.

The narrator then pitches the message: “The Anti-Drug and Alcohol Authority supports expediting permits for the use of medical cannabis. The battle for your quality of life is our battle.”

The agency has long monitored the spirited public discussion about and increasing support for legalizing recreational drugs.

In a November 2013 position paper, the authority wrote that such discussion “has led to a decline in the public’s perception of the danger of cannabis.”

And in a campaign last December, the authority opposed legalization and reduced penalties for marijuana use. It distributed a booklet called “Marijuana: The Whole Truth,” detailing the risks of cannabis use.

As of December 2014, more than 21,000 people held permits for medical marijuana. They’re given to people with cancer, neurological disorders like Parkinson’s, Tourette’s, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

A Health Ministry department authorizes certain physicians to dispense cannabis.

The Anti-Drug and Alcohol Authority says the new ad campaign does not reflect a change in its attitude toward medical marijuana.

Its deputy director general, Eitan Gorni, says that as far back as 2006, when he wrote the authority’s first position paper on the subject, “we said we have no objection to medical use as long as it is really for medical use under proper medical supervision and marijuana would not creep into the private market.”

But Gorni says the public perceived that the authority opposed medical marijuana. So “we decided this time to make clear that we are not opposed to the use of medical marijuana. On the contrary, there are cases in which marijuana helps healing and cases in which it relieves pain.”

Gorni said some people who had been promoting broader legalization tried to persuade the public that the agency also opposed medical marijuana. “We very much oppose legalization,” he said.

The fact that 8,000 soldiers voted for the Green Leaf Party, which backs legalization of recreational use of drugs, “worried us,” Gorni said.

“I would not want an army driver smoking marijuana with his friends on the base and then the next day taking a bus full of soldiers. And anyhow, this is not the [image] I want for Israeli society.”

At least some people in the field consider the campaign a change for the authority.

“In the first years medical marijuana was used, the authority was supposedly for it but did quite a bit to hurt the field and restrict it,” a person involved in the issue said.

Gorni disputed the statement and said the authority simply wanted doctors to decide what the indications were for the use of medical marijuana.

Tikun Olam, one of eight companies licensed to grow and supply marijuana to patients with permits, said it was pleased with the authority’s campaign.

The authority seems “aware of the many and significant successes of treatment with medical marijuana,” Tikun Olam’s public-information and regulation director, Eran Reis, said.

“We would be pleased if the authority would take part in helping 350,000 patients who are suffering illnesses for which marijuana is indicated to receive [that] treatment.”