AN EMPLOYEE checks on cannabis plants at a medical-marijuana plantation in the North last year..
(photo credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)
Israel’s attitude toward medical cannabis is schizophrenic.
On one hand, it is probably the most developed nation in the world when it comes to innovation in the field. Israel, one of the few countries where it is completely legal to engage in clinical research, has develop new and innovative ways to deliver the medicinal substance in cannabis. Inhalers, creams, pills and oils make it easier for people who need cannabis to administer it. And researchers have perfected measurement of dosages so that the patient receives the exact amount he or she needs, and is not dependent on fluctuating qualities.
In April, the government will also become one of the few, if not the first, government to sponsor a conference that deals with uses of medicinal cannabis. Israel has also taken steps toward decriminalization. And more than 30,000 Israeli patients now receive cannabis through the health funds for medicinal use.
On the other hand, bureaucracy within the Health Ministry has forced tens of thousands of additional patients suffering from a wide range of ailments that can be treated with medicinal cannabis to wait more than a year to receive what they need. In the meantime, they are forced to take conventional drugs such as opioids and steroids, which are addictive and dangerous.
And the government is also dragging its feet with regard to export of medicinal cannabis, a multi-billion-shekel market that could generate thousands of jobs and millions of shekels in tax revenue.
Dozens of firms have received permits to set up farms to grow medicinal cannabis, and a sweeping reform was instituted to regulate the growing and marketing of the substance. Since the permits were issued last year, tens of millions of dollars have been invested by both local and international firms to prepare for growing and marketing cannabis for medicinal use. The Agriculture Ministry declared medicinal cannabis to be a legitimate industry, which opens up forms of government aid to growers.
But until the government approves export, Israel’s tremendous know-how and economic potential will not be realized. The highly regulated local market is simply too small to support Israel’s tremendous potential.
The cabinet was slated to vote on Thursday on opening up medicinal cannabis to export, but the vote was delayed at the last minute. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is demanding more than NIS 200 million to create new positions in the Israel Police that will be responsible for making sure that cannabis is sold purely for medicinal purposes and to put in place security arrangements related to the transport of the substance abroad. The Treasury for its part has so far refused to provide the requisite funding from the 2019 budget.
So while the government gave dozens of firms permits to build cannabis farms, the entire medicinal cannabis market is stuck because there is no way of selling most of the finished product until the government approves exports.
Why did the government approve the building of these farms if it had no intention of allowing growers to export? Is the government schizophrenic? It is no secret that medicinal cannabis is effective for the treatment of a wide range of ailments from skin diseases and glaucoma to autism and ALS.
A study published in November by the University of New Mexico, for instance, found that cannabis is effective in reducing opioid use. Opioid overdose is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the US.
Cannabis has also been found to reduce the use of other prescription drugs.
Could it be that lobbyists from large pharmaceutical companies are putting pressure on the government to prevent the Israeli medical cannabis market from taking off? Prescription drug sellers clearly have an interest in preventing marketing of medical cannabis that would lower demand for conventional drugs.
The question is whether the government will continue to exhibit schizophrenia (by the way, the cannabis-derived chemical cannabidiol is thought to offer relief to schizophrenics); or will the government do what is right not just for business, innovation and the economy but also for millions of patients suffering from diseases readily treatable with cannabis?