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German determined to make supply of medical cannabis ‘transparent and organized’
By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH
08/12/2013
Health Ministry is adding manpower, funding to its Jerusalem-based unit for supervising use of medical marijuana.
 
Health Minister Yael German (Yesh Atid) is due to present a proposal to the government to create order in the production, supply and authorization of medical cannabis to patients with serious diseases, on Sunday.

Marijuana, grown for medical purposes in Israel and abroad, is provided by eight suppliers, and is known to relieve pain and other severe symptoms from certain diseases.

However, its efficacy has not yet been scientifically proven, and it carries with it several risks.

The law enforcement authorities are concerned about transfer of the legal medical cannabis to criminal elements and recreational users, whereas the Israel Medical Association is concerned about patients trying to take advantage of doctors for access to the drug.

The Health Ministry is adding manpower – nine additional physicians to the present 21 doctors who approve use – and funding to its Jerusalem-based unit for supervising the use of medical marijuana and trying to reduce red tape and abuse.

Instead of a maximum fiveweek wait to get a request considered by a psychiatrist at Abarbanel Mental Health Center in Bat Yam – as it was previously – the ministry says it aims to decide on the eligibility of terminally ill patients within 48 hours and within a week for cancer patients on chemotherapy.

In addition, the whole process of authorization, says the ministry, will become more transparent. Its website – www.health.gov.il – will supply information such as criteria for obtaining medical marijuana and other data for all to see.

Yuval Lanschaft won a public tender a few months ago to head the unit and is based at the ministry’s headquarters in Jerusalem.

Lanschaft and his staff send SMS messages to applicants’ cellphones, the ministry says, instead of forcing them to call Bat Yam for hours at a time waiting for a response.

Another reform to be proposed at the cabinet meeting next week is to sever the connection between the suppliers of marijuana to the patients.

Previously, would-be recipients had to be in direct contact with the suppliers – led by Tikun Olam, which provides 25 percent of the supply – this connection will be cut, and doses of cannabis will be obtained at pharmacies (probably private ones and not those owned by the health funds).

The Israel Police will supervise the transfer and supply of the drug in the pharmacies so as to prevent criminal use of the drug, the ministry says.

Social Affairs and Health Committee chairman MK Haim Katz (Likud) strongly criticized German, on Thursday, claiming that she “wants to destroy medical cannabis use and to hurt patients who need help.”

He said that German’s proposal is “scandalous and pushed through quickly to benefit one private company without issuing a public tender.”

Katz also claimed that if it becomes law, the proposal would retain control of the process and be able to turn down desperate patients’ requests despite recommendations of medical specialists that the drug be provided.

German’s spokeswoman said that the minister “cares deeply about the welfare of patients and that the proposal will improve the situation, bringing about more efficiency and transparency. In addition she said, “not all patients want cannabis.”

Some 2,000 of them have said that they prefer nabiximols (commercially known as Sativex), a patented cannabinoid oromucosal mouth spray developed by a UK company for multiple sclerosis patients – who can use it to alleviate neuropathic pain, spasticity, overactive bladder, and other symptoms.

This product reduces pain and other symptoms, much like marijuana, without providing users with a “high,” German’s spokeswoman said.
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