Medical Marijuana Crisis Expected After Israel Police Blocks New Workers

The Health Ministry says a shortage in medical cannabis could end up hurting patients and Israel's marijuana industry as a whole.

Medical marijuana.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Health Ministry and marijuana-growing companies predict that in three to four months, there will be a shortage of medical marijuana products and problems in maintaining supplies, now that the Israel Police has suspended the approval procedures for bringing new workers into the industry.

Approximately 30,000 patients have a license to use medical cannabis and the number is steadily rising. By 2018, it is expected to top 40,000. The cannabis products in Israel are supplied by cannabis farms, mostly located in the periphery. Since it is categorized as a “dangerous drug,” all related activity in the industry requires an inspection and approval by the Israel Police. Hiring a new worker also requires a background check and police approval.

Due to the increase in demand and consumption of medical marijuana in Israel, more workers are needed, especially in agriculture. People with knowledge of the industry say there is currently a shortfall of about 100 workers, and that this will double within a few months.

Last September, the police said that without the necessary resources, it could not adequately implement the cannabis reform, and it ceased working with the Health Ministry. The police also ceased inspecting and approving new entrepreneurs and companies that wished to compete in Health Ministry tenders.

Last week, Health Ministry officials from the medical cannabis unit informed growers that, until further notice, the police was halting all interaction with the Health Ministry regarding medical marijuana, including approving requests for new workers, inspecting and approving new investors and partners in the industry and inspecting new growing centers competing in the Health Ministry tenders.

Industry folks blame Minister Erdan

People in the industry and in the Health Ministry say this is a real crisis that could end up hurting patients as well as the Israeli marijuana industry, which is considered a world leader in growing methods and in research and development. People in the industry point the finger of blame at Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and his ministry.

“It’s unbelievable that patients will have to pay with their health for the Public Security Ministry’s months-long failure to obtain the needed slots from the treasury,” says one industry veteran. “The police have been talking for a long time about increasing the size of the unit that currently deals with approving workers for the industry, and it hasn’t happened, and now the approval process has been completely halted. Among the 30,000 patients being treated with medical cannabis are also hundreds of former police officers who need treatment.”

The government’s June 2016 decision on the regulation of medical marijuana in Israel, known as the “cannabis reform,” included numerous changes regarding how medical cannabis is handled within the health system, and created a new structure for the marijuana industry in Israel. The plan called for the Israel Police to be involved in nearly every part of the reform’s implementation, to a much greater degree than before. Now the police are being asked to carry out all of this additional work with the same manpower as before.

The Ministry of Public Security says that it allotted a budget for this activity and that the issue of worker approval is up to the police.

The Health Ministry says: “Unfortunately, the process of examining requests cannot progress due to reasons that have nothing to do with the Health Ministry. The Israel Police says it cannot provide adequate service without the necessary resources to implement the outline that was approved by the government and without receiving the means that they requested, and so they have ceased to work with the Health Ministry on this.”

Israel Police stated, "The unit that conducts background security checks [on workers] will begin operations soon, once all the positions are filled."