Turnaround in Health Ministry will allow sales of medical cannabis in pharmacies

The policy shift will make it easier for tens of thousands of people with pain and other chronic symptoms to get medical marijuana.

July 27, 2015 12:54
2 minute read.

A worker carries sacks of newly harvested cannabis plants at a plantation near Nazareth. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The Health Ministry will make it possible for patients licensed to receive medical cannabis to get it at a pharmacy, Deputy Health Minister MK Ya’acov Litzman announced on Monday at a session of the Knesset Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse.

The policy shift will make it easier for tens of thousands of people with pain and other chronic symptoms to get medical marijuana.

“I saw medical marijuana last week for the first time,” said Litzman, an MK from the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism Party. I was required by a suit in the High Court of Justice to deal with the issue,” he said, adding that during his first four-year tenure as deputy health ministry, he “tried to stay away from dealing with the issue myself, but to hand it to professionals in the ministry. I am aware of the need to create order in the matter and to change the ministry’s policy to make it easier for patients,” the UTJ MK said.

Litzman said the ministry intends to train senior medial specialists who will be listed as experts in medical cannabis. “Every change takes time, and the moment we finish the legal process regarding the High Court case, we will act to advance the change.”
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Legislation will be prepared to carry out the directives.

Committee chairman MK Tamar Zandberg called Litzman’s turnabout “a real revolution. Under the present situation, there was a bottleneck that caused many patients to suffer from the red tape and delays. We are in fact canceling the administrative discretion and shifting to medical considerations,” the MK said.

Ministry associate director-general Dr. Boaz Lev added that “part 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,” Lev said.

The ministry will train a list of senior physicians and the patients themselves so they will know all of the dangers, he said. “We want to see it as the process closest to obtaining other narcotics.” The ministry has added new indications for medical cannabis, “and in this field, we are among the most advanced in the world. The authorization will be renewed once a year,” the director-general said.

MK Yinon Magal (Bayit Yehudi) said it was impossible to “always claim there is a risk of cannabis leaking out to people unauthorized to get it. One could claim that about any other drug.”

Zionist Union MK Shelly Yacimovich – who does not often praise Litzman’s ultra-Orthdox party – said that the decision was an “incredible advance, a 180-degree turnaround for the ministry.” She added, however, that “Boldness, determination and executive ability is required,” to implement the reforms.

Hagai Hillman, chairman of the forum of legal growers of medical cannabis, welcomed the decision to make the drug more accessible. ”In the coming days, we will study the decision and offer our suggestions of the best way to ensure that patients continue to receive a high-quality product at a reasonable price with a minimum of red tape and middleman’s fees,” he said.

The ministry said it aims to standardize supplies of medical cannabis so they are available as generic products.

This will allow physicians to prescribe the proper dosage.

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