Cabinet Approves Health Ministry Rules on Medical Marijuana

New regulations will increase number of physicians authorized to prescribe marijuana by 50 percent.

The cabinet approved Sunday new medical marijuana regulations, increasing the number of physicians authorized to prescribe the drug to their patients from 21 to 31.

The proposal, which was introduced on behalf of the Health, Agriculture and Public Security Ministries, passed by a large majority of the cabinet. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan abstained.

In addition to raising the number of doctors allowed to prescribe cannabis, the new regulations would also change the way medical marijuana is grown, packed, distributed and in Israel.

The new regulations stipulate deadlines to ensure prescriptions are filled in a time-sensitive manner. For example, people with a terminal illness are to receive their medicinal marijuana within 48 hours after getting a prescription, while people undergoing chemotherapy for cancer are to receive their supplies within one week of the prescription.

The regulations will also alter the relationship between patients that use the drug and marijuana growers. Health Ministry officials claim that the current situation in which patients purchase medical marijuana directly from growers, with the latter providing recommendations for minimum dosage, are inappropriate. In addition, the various distribution locations will be regulated as well, with grower-based distribution giving way to authorized pharmacies.

According to the new regulations, marijuana will be collected from the growers and taken to logistics centers, where it will be packed in doses and weights that will be set by the Health Ministry. The company Sarel will be responsible for collecting and transferring the plant. From the logistics centers, the marijuana will then be transferred, under guard, to authorized pharmacies. The set weights and doses to be determined by the Health Ministry will be according to the minimum and maximum allowable doses of the active chemicals in marijuana: CBD, THC and CBN, and combinations of them.

There are currently about 14,000 individuals in Israel with prescriptions for medical marijuana. Most of the 21 physicians who are authorized to prescribe the drug are oncology or pain management specialists. Marijuana is used to relieve chronic pain, chronic nausea and decreased appetite, among other conditions. Use of marijuana is common among people with AIDS, cancer, Tourette syndrome, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis and other diseases.

Recently, marijuana has also been prescribed to individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder. The number of marijuana prescriptions every year, and it is expected to reach some 40,000 Israeli patients by 2018.

In Israel there are currently eight authorized marijuana growers that distribute over 10 different strains of the plant to patients with prescriptions. Patients currently receive their marijuana from one of the distribution points – Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem, Abarbanel Mental Health Center, Bat Yam, as well as other distribution points in Safed and Tel Aviv.

Some patients receive deliveries straight to their homes, from a specially authorized messenger service. The specific strains used by each patient are determined by the growers, based on their experience and expertise regarding the effects of the active chemicals. Growers are also currently responsible for explaining to patients how and how often the drug should be used. 

Daniel Tchetchik