Medical Marijuana – Coming Soon to an Israeli Pharmacy Near You

Prescription holders will no longer have to buy from growers via distribution centers; more doctors can prescribe drug.

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Illustration by Amos Biderman
Illustration by Amos Biderman

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman announced Monday that medical marijuana will eventually be available at pharmacies for patients with a doctor’s prescription.

Speaking to the Knesset Committee on Drug Abuse Monday morning, the Health Ministry’s Prof. Boaz Lev added that the agency also intended to increase the number of physicians who are authorized to prescribe cannabis to patients.

“Today, pharmacies give all kinds of other drugs, like morphine; there’s order in that and we’ll make order in this, too,” Litzman said. “It will be standard, like a drug.”

Regarding the concern that the drug will end up diverted to the open market, Litzman said, “The moment it will be in pharmacies by prescription, we will make sure to wage an aggressive battle not to let it leak out. The growers will also be strengthened. The moment we issue a tender [for growers], it will become subject to a doctor’s prescription, and I’m sure it’ll be accepted.”

Litzman noted there was a petition pending before the High Court of Justice filed by farmers seeking to grow marijuana. He said he hoped the High Court would allow the ministry to issue a tender.

Committee chairwoman MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) welcomed the decision. “The field had been exhausted and reached a dead end,” she said. “People were desperately awaiting this kind of news.”

Around 22,000 Israelis are currently eligible for medical marijuana, but the number who could potentially qualify has sharply increased. The Health Ministry unit that issues permits to patients has become overwhelmed by applications, with people often having to wait months for approval.

The Health Ministry’s plan is to exempt patients from having to be approved by the ministry’s medical cannabis unit; instead, it plans to certify more physicians to give permits without having to go through the ministry. “We plan to train a list of senior physicians, as well as patients, so they will become familiar with all the risks. We want to see [the prescribing of marijuana] become as similar as possible to the process of prescribing any other narcotic,” Lev said.

The Pharmaceutical Society of Israel, representing the country’s pharmacists, supports the move, stressing that the current procedure – in which patients with permits get their cannabis directly from the handful of authorized growers – can be unsafe.

“There must be complete separation between the growers and the distribution network for cannabis,” said Miki Ofer, a former association chairman who is a member of its professional committee on the issue. “Nowhere in the world is a drug or medical device supplied to patients by the manufacturer. Accordingly, medical marijuana must be sold in authorized pharmacies, like any other drug.”

Ofer added that when growers sell cannabis directly to patients, “They don’t know what other drugs the patient is taking and what interactions there might be. When cannabis will be supplied by pharmacies, the pharmacists can explain the side effects and possible interactions to the patients.”

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