Dr. Ronni Gamzi, director-general of the Health Ministry, decided on Thursday to establish a unit within the ministry to manage the supervision and supply of medical marijuana and to serve as an agency for this purpose according to the demands of an international agreement on the subject.

The unit will begin operating in January, 2012.

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It was also decided that medical cannabis will continue to be grown in Israel for at least two years, because imports would be tenfold more expensive.

The head of the unit will be chosen in a public tender according to his or her management experience, but a medical degree is not required. The ministry unit will include a medical and logistical branch that will function in cooperation with other relevant ministries, Gamzu said.

Until now, authorization for the use of medical marijuana to relieve pain and provide other relief for patients – adults and children – with severe illness has been supervised and authorized for specific patients by Dr. Yehuda Baruch, a psychiatrist at the government’s Abarbanel State Mental Health Center in Bat Yam.

Currently, medical marijuana is supplied exclusively by local growers to some 6,000 patients authorized by Baruch, but there are predictions that doctor and patient satisfaction is so high that the number could reach 40,000 in 2016.

Members of the Israel Pharmacists Association have been pressing for permission to distribute medical marijuana to authorized patients through their pharmacies. Although the Israel Police has urged that supplies be imported rather than locally grown because customs agents could minimize their reaching illicit users, the ministry decided that in the near future, no imports would be allowed.

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