Israeli Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman announced that the Health Ministry will allow pharmacies to begin filling prescriptions for medical cannabis. With one of the highest per capita rates of medical cannabis use of any country, Israel’s current practice of dispensing cannabis medication through pain clinics has resulted in a service bottleneck as the clinics struggle to keep up with demand.
Deputy Health Minister Litzman made his announcement at a meeting of the Knesset Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse. Litzman, a member of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism Party, admitted he had been slow to respond to the growing problem facing cannabis patients as delays at clinics caused their conditions to go untreated. A High Court of Justice decision finally forced him to act on the matter.
The ministry’s announcement follows recent attempts on the part of pain clinics to severely curtail access to cannabis. The clinics had stated, quite reasonably, that they were being overrun by cannabis requests to the detriment of patients seeking the clinics’ other, non-cannabis services. The bottleneck prompted some advocates to call for the separation of cannabis and non-cannabis therapies through the creation of dedicated cannabis-dispensing treatment centers.
Instead of special clinics dedicated to cannabis, however, as part of the newly announced plan, the Health Ministry will train senior physicians as medical cannabis specialists and empower them with an expanded set of indications to guide in prescribing cannabis medications. The ministry will work with growers to cultivate standardized strains of medical cannabis to be used in medicinal formulations of cannabis oil, giving physicians the ability to prescribe precise doses of cannabis similar to what they have when prescribing conventional narcotic pain relievers.
The oil will be put into pills and made available through established pharmacies. By routing supply through pharmacies, the burden on patients and pain clinics that has constricted the flow of medical cannabis in Israel will be greatly diminished. Ministry associate director-general Dr. Boaz Lev said,
“[P]art of the change we will create will be standardization so that obtaining medical cannabis will 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.”
Committee Chairperson and outspoken cannabis legalization advocate Tamar Zandberg applauded the decision to put the well-being of patients ahead of bureaucratic priorities, saying,
“We are in fact canceling the administrative discretion and shifting to medical considerations.”