Israeli Health Ministry Plans to Lift Restrictions on Growing Medical Cannabis

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A worker tends to cannabis plants at Tikun Olam, Safed.
A worker tends to cannabis plants at Tikun Olam, Safed.Credit: Reuters

The Health Ministry is moving ahead on a comprehensive plan on medical cannabis that would lift many restrictions that currently make life difficult for patients, doctors, growers and marketers of the plant.

An outline of the plan is now available for public scrutiny and comments, and next week it will be discussed by the Knesset Health Committee in the presence of Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who is pushing for the plan.

There are currently 23,000 registered users of the herb to alleviate pain and neurological symptoms as well as cancer patients and PTSD sufferers.

The Health Ministry has been discussing streamlining the permit process for cannabis use for two years and a plan was even published, but never applied.

In terms of supply, under the new plan the number of growers, which today is limited to eight, will no longer be restricted and anyone who meets the proper standards will be able to receive a grower’s and shipper’s permit.

The plan calls for distribution at specially licensed pharmacies, rather the current distribution system, by growers to certain distribution points or straight to patients’ homes. The plan would lift restrictions on the number of pharmacies allowed to market the drug; pharmacists would apply for a permit to market cannabis as they do for narcotics.

However, in terms of the long road patients now must take before they are given a permit to use cannabis, the plan offer no immediate solution. Only 36 doctors nationwide are currently allowed to prescribe cannabis, while many HMO pain clinics are directed by their management not to prescribe cannabis and so patients turn to private clinics, which are flooded with requests, resulting in waiting lists that are sometimes months long.

The new plan calls for training more doctors to prescribe cannabis; however, it mentions no specific numbers of physicians or a timetable. The plan only notes that “after the plan is inculcated and cannabis in the country is of proper quality and safety, the possibility will be studied of moving to a regime of prescriptions, partial or full, and making the necessary legislative amendments.”

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