Israel Mulls Easing Restrictions on Medical Marijuana

Health Minister Litzman looking to open market to unlimited numbers of growers and to permit sales in pharmacies.

Medical marijuana.
Olivier Fitoussi

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman is attempting to change policies regarding the use of medical marijuana in Israel, so that in six months licensed physicians will be able to provide patients with permits for using this plant as a drug.

“We’re currently expanding the group of people that can grant such permits,” Litzman said at a joint meeting of the Knesset health committee and its special committee on drug and alcohol abuse, a meeting devoted to a reform in cannabis usage. “If I see no problems in six months we’ll allow doctors to give out permits.”

Moti Milrod

Currently only 36 physicians – mainly oncologists and pain physicians – who are authorized to recommend patients get such a permit. This recommendation is reviewed and approved or rejected by the unit for medical marijuana at the Health Ministry that gives out permits. The cumbersome process subjects patients to delays lasting months, which are repeated when renewal of existing permits is required.

The ministry has published an outline for a reform, subjecting it to public comments. The outline proposes opening the market to unlimited numbers of growers, the selling of the drug at pharmacies and a separation between growing, processing, marketing and distribution.

“We’ll examine comments we’ve received from the public” said Litzman. “This area needs to be tidied up. I’m against free administration of cannabis and endorse giving it only to people medically requiring it. People needing it shouldn’t wait and be under pressure. There are more than 23,000 recipients of medical cannabis in Israel. This is unreasonable in comparison to European countries. I think we’re overdoing it and we’re now trying to regulate this.” He says the ministry, together with the Public Security Ministry, will closely monitor and enforce the manner in which the plant is transported and marketed in pharmacies.

MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), who heads the special committee says that the most important aspect of the reform are the patients. “This is the only area in which the physician can only recommend the drug, not prescribe it. We must reach a situation in which the doctor is in charge of treatment.”

A police representative questioned the implications of a growing number of users of the plant, now labeled a dangerous substance. “We’ll have to know if users we encounter are licensed,” he said. Implications for driving and possession of weapons were also mentioned.