Israel ‘goes green’ by opening medical marijuana sales to pharmacies

Published July 28th, 2015 - 06:00 GMT
Marijuana will be made available to tens of thousands of people with 'chronic' symptoms. (AFP/File)
Marijuana will be made available to tens of thousands of people with 'chronic' symptoms. (AFP/File)

A revolutionary decision by the Health Ministry will make it possible for patients licensed to receive medical cannabis to get it at a pharmacy with authorization from a medical expert instead of having to go to a handful of approved ministry physicians. Deputy Health Minister MK Ya’acov Litzman announced the decision on Monday at a session of the Knesset Anti-Drugs Committee.

The policy shift will make it easier for tens of thousands of people with pain and other chronic symptoms to get medical marijuana.

“I saw medical marijuana last week for the first time,” said Litzman, an MK from the ultra-Orthodox (haredi) United Torah Judaism party. I was required by a suit in the High Court of Justice to deal with the issue,” he said. During his first four-year tenure as deputy health ministry, he “tried to stay away of dealing with the issue myself, but to hand it to professionals in the ministry. I am aware of the need to create order in the matter and to change the ministry’s policy to make it easier for patients,” he said.

Litzman said he intends to train senior medial specialists who will be listed as experts in medical cannabis. “Every change takes time, and the moment we finish the legal process regarding the High Court case, we will act to advance the change.”

Committee chairman MK Tamar Zandberg called Litzman’s turnabout “a real revolution. Under the present situation, there was a bottleneck that caused many patients to suffer from the red tape and delays. We are in fact cancelling the administrative discretion and shifted to medical considerations,” the MK said.

Ministry associate director-general Dr. Boaz Lev added that “part of the change we will create will be standardization so that obtaining medical cannabis wil be very much like getting a prescription drug in the pharmacy. One of our aims is to open the bureaucratic bottleneck so that more physicians can prescribe it, with all the necessary responsibility and care.” he said.

The ministry will train a list of senior physicians and the patients themselves so they will know all of the dangers, added Lev. “We want to see it as the process closest to obtaining other narcotics.” The ministry has added new indications for medical cannabis, “and in this field, we are among the most advanced in the world. The authorization will be renewed once a year.”
MK Yinon Magal of Bayit Yehudi said it was impossible to “always claim there is a risk of cannabis leaking out to people unauthorized to get it. One could claim that about any other drug.”

Zionist Union MK Shelly Yacimovich, who does not often praise Litzman’s haredi party, said the decision was an “incredible advance, a 180-degree turnaround for the ministry. “Boldness, determination and executive ability is required.”

Zandberg summarized by saying that the committee intends to follow up the matter to make sure that the change will actually be implemented.

Hagai Hillman, chairman of the forum of legal growers of medical cannabis, welcomed the decision to make the drug more accessible.”In the coming days, we will study the decision and offer our suggestions of the best way to ensure that patients continue to receive a high-quality product at a reasonable price with a minimum of red tape and middleman’s fees.”

The ministry said it aims at standardizing supplies of medical cannabis so they are available as generic products so physicians can prescribe the proper dosage. The ministry will require growers chosen in a tender to create strains of the plant according to a known and supervised formula and to pack them in oil only. Pharmacies with permission to supply the product will be trained on how to store and register them.

The ministry will also act to create alternatives for medical cannabis to ensure as much as possible that the product is not smoked as a form of treatment. A special medical cannabis unit will gradually be set up in the ministry to ensure that all is done properly, and legislation will be prepared to carry out the directives.

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