Instead of teenagers smoking after school at 4:20 p.m. or activists waiting until April 20 (4/20 by American date notation), nearly two dozen Israeli pharmacies will start selling medical marijuana on that date this Friday – known worldwide as a day on which advocates for legalization light up in public.
As part of a pilot program, 21 Super-Pharm outlets plan to sell medical cannabis oil in cities throughout the country, with the exception of Tel Aviv and Eilat.
Two other private pharmacies plan to participate but are not expected to start selling this week, while the four Israeli health fund pharmacies are not interested in providing medical marijuana – for now.
Initially, the participating pharmacies will sell marijuana oil from two Israeli suppliers, Panaxia and Rafa.
magazine has suggested that Super-Pharm is participating because the Koffler family, which owns the firm, is well-enmeshed financially with the global marijuana industry.
The publication added that the Health Ministry may not yet have finalized preparations for Friday’s sale.
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While medical marijuana advocates praised the news that general pharmacies would sell the drug in concentrated oil form, some expressed alarm at the pricing plans.
Until now, marijuana patients in Israel paid 370 shekels ($105) per month for an unlimited amount of dry cannabis, according to Oren Lebovitch, chairman of Israel’s pro-legalization party Ale Yarok
“The government says people were abusing that,” said Lebovitch, referring to how some patients could theoretically walk away from suppliers with their arms full of marijuana.
Lebovitch added: “An inspector in the Israeli medical cannabis unit in the Health Ministry publicly accused a patient, [charging] that a woman took 180 grams a month. He accused her in a speech, [saying] that she was selling. So the patient sued him, and he was forced to pay her 50,000 shekels.”
WITH THE CHANGE in pricing, medical-marijuana oil concentrate now will cost NIS 150 ($43) for 10 grams, with a minimum purchase of 20 grams per month. For patients who face debilitating and painful diseases, many of whom require 30-60 grams of the dry material per month, the new prices of oil concentrate make it much more expensive.
“Children today receive six to eight oil bottles a month,” Lebovitch said. “Each bottle is equivalent to 10 grams. They will have to pay – sick children and cancer patients – thousands of shekels.”
The medical cannabis oil being sold has a concentration of 20-30% of the active ingredient THC. It is not being provided in bud form, in order to discourage patients from smoking the substance.
On the black market, a gram of dry cannabis bud costs around NIS 90-100 ($25-28), with a THC concentration of between 12-20%, according to Lebovitch. That makes Israel the fifth most expensive country in the world to buy under-the-table marijuana.
Patients in Israel can get a prescription for medical marijuana if their condition does not improve after trying traditional drugs for one year. Israel restricts the drug quite rigorously. Marijuana treatment is available for the relief of chronic neuropathic pain, the symptoms of multiple sclerosis and the side-effects of chemotherapy, among other diagnoses.
Around 33,000 Israelis are prescribed medical cannabis, using an average of 34 grams of the dry substance a month.
The sale by pharmacies of cannabis oil comes on the heels of a government conference next week, along with an agreement earlier this month that the cabinet would consider approving medical marijuana exports.