(photo credit: INIMAGE)
An anesthesiologist took bribes to write false recommendations for medical cannabis for dozens of people, police said Monday, as he and with dozens of other suspects were arrested.
The chief suspect, Dr. Avraham Dotan, is a senior anesthesiologist at Wolfson Hospital in Holon. The 64-year-old doctor’s main alleged accomplice, 36-yearold Moshav Ametz resident Roi Habera, is accused of bringing him patients and brokering the deals.
Police said in court that they had already brought in 40 suspects for questioning on Monday, and that they plan to question as many as 130 people suspected of wrongfully receiving recommendations or of knowing information pertinent to the case.
In Dr. Dotan’s arrest warrant on Monday, police wrote that he is suspected of money laundering, forgery, fraud, drug dealing, bribery, tax crimes and other charges.
Both he and Habera were ordered held for 11 more days at their remand extension hearing at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court.
Dotan has no prior criminal record, police said. Central District police said the arrests were made following months of an undercover investigation in collaboration with the Tax Authorities and the Health Ministry.
In his ruling during the hearing on Monday, Judge Menachem Mizrachi said that, “In the classified material in the police case there is more than enough evidence to show that the suspect, along with a suspected accomplice, formulated a method to deal drugs under the false pretense of legality, in exchange for bribes.”
Central District spokesman Ami Ben-David said Monday that police suspect the doctor and his accomplice ran a network of associates who located potential clients across Israel and guided them to his office to receive false recommendations for submission to the Health Ministry for approval.
Ben-David said that the doctor would receive around NIS 10,000 per recommendation and that so far police know of a few dozen recipients, but suspect there are many more.
According to figures presented at a meeting of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee in July, there were 22,254 licensed medical cannabis users in Israel as of May 2015. This represents more than a 12-fold increase over the 1,800 licensed users in 2009.
Of the 22,254 licensed users, 7,350 receive cannabis for treatment for cancer, while around half of the remaining 14,905 receive cannabis to treat chronic pain.
In the first half of 2015, 12,763 requests were submitted to the Health Ministry for licenses to receive medical cannabis, including 2,793 requests for new permits and 6,952 requests for license renewals. The remainder were made by patients looking to change their licensed dosage. Some 60% of requests for new permits were approved, as were 98% of renewals.
Medical cannabis is never a first treatment and for many patients it is a last resort. The lengthy approval process requires the authentic recommendation of a pain specialist, and often a psychiatrist, which must follow a thoroughly documented course of treatment of at least a year, including previous treatment with medications that either did not work or did not sufficiently alleviate the pain.
Patients receive a prescribed amount of cannabis produced by government-authorized growers and can choose from different forms of the drug, including leaves, pre-rolled joints, cannabis oil, or cannabis infused cookies.
Patients pay a flat rate of NIS 370 per month regardless of how much they are prescribed for prime, government produced marijuana. The price is far lower than the black market rate for top-grade marijuana, which in Israel can cost NIS 200 per gram.
In the past few years, the street price of hashish (cannabis resin) has soared in Israel due to heavy policing in the South, where the construction of the border fence with Egypt drastically cut the amount of hashish smuggled into the country. This has boosted the amount of medical marijuana reaching the market and also the number of Israelis who grow marijuana. This includes not only those who grow for personal use, but also large-scale operations, which are often run by organized crime groups.