Patients, Doctors Go on Hunger Strike Outside Minister's Home to Protest Restrictions on Medical Marijuana

Some 11,000 Israelis are currently prescribed the healing herb, but the Health Ministry plans to tighten the acceptance conditions.

Dan Even
Dan Even
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Dan Even
Dan Even

Patients and doctors organizeded a hunger strike opposite the home of Health Minister Yael German on Thursday to protest new restrictions on the use of medical marijuana.

The Health Ministry’s new procedure, recently revealed in Haaretz, aims at regularizing treatment with medical marijuana in Israel.

During the holiday a number of patients announced on Facebook that they intend to embark on a hunger strike in front of German’s home in Herzliya with the demand to cancel the restrictions that have been imposed on treatment with medical marijuana.

The new procedure, implemented immediately, established a list of conditions for which a patient can receive approval for treatment with marijuana during chemotherapy treatments and up to only one year after the chemo is completed. Among others on the list are patients with metastasizing cancer, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative infection of the intestine in exceptional situations, HIV carriers with extreme weight loss or low blood count, multiple sclerosis patients with muscle spasms and terminal patients with a life expectancy of up to half a year. Patients with pain of neural origin will receive authorization for marijuana only after a year of treatments at recognized pain clinic and following the failure of previous treatments.

The demonstrators want to cancel what they call the new decrees and to disband the labeling committee set up by the Health Ministry to discuss the authorization for treatment of patients with other conditions that are not included in the list, including Parkinson’s disease, glaucoma and psychiatric conditions and disorders. However, the procedure does allow the new unit set up at the ministry to regularize the matter, headed by Yuval Landschaft, to allow treatment in exceptional cases not included under the procedure, on the basis of research evidence.

According to the Health Ministry, “The statements about the new policy do not conform to the facts. In the past two years the number of permits has increased threefold from 3,500 to 11,000. Since 2010 there has been no change in the indicators for the administration of medical marijuana.”
Recently four doctors from the Doctors’ Forum for Safe Access to Cannabis sent a letter to German protesting the new procedure. Forum chairman Dr. Ilya Reznick of the Reut Hospital in Tel Aviv, Dr. Jonathan Greenfeld, director of the palliative oncology medicine service at Assaf Harofeh Hospital, Dr. Alan Flashman of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Dr. Yakir Rotenberg of the Hadassah Medical Center warn that the new procedure could cause patients who are no longer on the list to purchase drugs from illegal sources.

According to them, the announced procedures are “arbitrary and discriminate among patients with different conditions without any logical explanation, and are liable to lead to damage to the continuity of treatment for some of them, contrary to the Patients’ Rights Law.

In the wake of the protest German has ordered the labeling committee to discuss expanding the list of conditions that allow for treatment with medical marijuana, under the new procedure. “It is necessary to ease as much as possible the giving of cannabis for the medical conditions suitable for it,” German has informed Haaretz. “I have ordered the director general of the ministry to ascertain that the labeling committee is discussing expansion of the conditions I order to ease the patients’ pain.”

According to the Health Ministry, “This issue is being dealt with by the police.”

A man helps his cancer-stricken father smoke marijuana.Credit: Reuters

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