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Israel: New Directives on Use of Marijuana for Medical Purposes

(Jan. 6, 2014)

On December 15, 2013, the Israeli government approved new directives for the distribution of cannabis to patients. The directives were proposed by the Ministry of Health, Agriculture and Internal Security (hereinafter the Ministry of Health). Cannabis is currently defined as a dangerous substance under the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance (New Version), 5733-1971 (3 LAWS OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL (New Version) 5 (1981), as amended).

The newly approved directives reportedly authorize the addition of ten physicians to the 21 doctors who had already been authorized to permit the use of cannabis by patients for medical purposes. The Ministry, according to the directives, would publish on its website the times during which cannabis administration services for patients would be provided. Requests for cannabis from terminally ill patients must be processed within 48 hours; those from cancer patients undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatment, within a week. (The Government Approved the Recommendations of the Ministry of Health Regarding Medical Cannabis [in Hebrew], DOCTORS ONLY (Dec. 16, 2013).)

The directives require that cannabis be collected from growers and transferred to a logistical center, where it will be packaged in fixed dosages and according to criteria to be determined by the Ministry of Health. Collection of cannabis will be made by the Israel Company, a corporation that was established by a government decision and is owned by a non-profit organization representing hospitals in Israel. The company’s board of directors includes representatives of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of the Treasury. (Id.)

According to the new procedures introduced by the directives, medical cannabis will be transferred from the storage area where growers deposit it to qualified pharmacies that have been selected by public tender to have exclusive rights for the legal sale of cannabis in Israel. The adoption of these new procedures is said to have severed the link between patients and growers of cannabis. This link was viewed by proponents of the new procedures as improper, in that it had caused patients’ dependency on specific growers that not only sold them the medical cannabis but also provided them with instructions on use and dosage. (Id.)

According to media reports, there are currently about 14,000 medical cannabis license-holders in Israel. The number of patients who receive permits to use cannabis increases every year, and it is estimated that by 2018 the number will rise to about 40,000. Licenses have thus far been distributed by physicians specializing in pain medicine and in oncology. (Ido Efrati, The Government Approved: Medical Cannabis License-Holders Will Be Able to Get It in Pharmacies [in Hebrew], HAARETZ (Dec. 15, 2013) .)

Permits for cannabis use have been distributed in accordance with criteria established in a the Directive on Licenses for Use of Cannabis (Directive No. 106 updated to July 1, 2013 [in Hebrew], Ministry of Health website), to patients with cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Tourette’s syndrome, and other terminal illnesses. Post-traumatic stress disorders have recently been added to the list of diseases qualifying those who suffer from them for permits to use cannabis. (Id.; Efrati, supra.)