Emotional Knesset committee session on medical cannabis ends with plans for ‘serious’ discussion

MKs hear sad testimony from patients suffering from painful diseases.

Cannabis [Illustrative] (photo credit: INIMAGE)
Cannabis [Illustrative]
(photo credit: INIMAGE)
The use of medical cannabis has multiplied by 12 over the last six years, according to experts who spoke at a noisy meeting on Monday of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee.
The MKs heard testimony from patients suffering from painful diseases, including Dana Braun, who has muscular dystrophy. Braun cried as she spoke about how using marijuana enabled her to dance at her own wedding.
But the Health Ministry, she said, “cut the amount of cannabis” that she was allowed to get, without informing her or her neurologist, and her condition declined.
“The ministry thinks it knows better than the neurologist what is right for me,” she told the committee. “I have met hundreds of patients who are in a similar situation. Some will undergo amputations because they don’t have enough cannabis to treat them.”
Ben Avishaham, who suffers from Crohn’s, the chronic gastroenterological disease, told the committee that only with medical cannabis did he “taste freedom. I registered for the university and started to play sports.” Six months ago, he said, the ministry reduced his permitted dosage, but when he complained to then-health minister MK Yael German and longtime ministry official Dr. Michael Dor, they managed to reverse the decision and his condition improved.
Former ministry director-general Prof. Arnon Afek said the ministry was ready to have training courses for family physicians so they could recommend medical cannabis if necessary.
“The medical indications have expanded and will continue to do so,” he said, noting that the drug has been found to ease pain and other complications of numerous chronic disorders.
“Maybe we have to make the appeals committees stronger. We have an orderly plan, but there is a plea to the Supreme Court on the issue. About 90 percent of applicants, in the long run and after appeals if they are filed, get the nod to receive cannabis.”
Eran Reiss, head of information and regulation with Tikun Olam, an organization that grows and supplies medical cannabis for patients, called Afek a “liar.” German, now an MK, objected. But Bayit Yehudi MK Yinon Magal interrupted, saying: “Does the fact that he was a director-general mean that he doesn’t lie?” He then turned to German, saying: “During your time in office, many patients suffered, and we want to correct this.” Magal finally apologized, but accused the ministry of “not doing its job.”
Israel Medical Association chairman Dr.
Leonid Eidelman, an anesthesiologist, said “research has not shown medical cannabis to be effective, and there are risks. Family physicians have other means to help patients.”
Committee chairman MK Eli Alalouf ended the meeting by saying that in October, they would hold another discussion – in greater depth – and study it completely. “The main question is why family physicians can’t prescribe cannabis and why it is not available in the pharmacies,” he said.
There are only 36 physicians in the country who are authorized to approve cannabis for patients. At the end of May, a total of 22,254 patients had licenses for marijuana, compared to 21,393 in January. In 2009, it was only 1,800. Most of them suffered from cancer, while the rest have chronic neuropathic pain not caused by tumors, gastroenterological diseases or psychiatric problems.The use of medical cannabis has multiplied by 12 over the last six years, according to experts who spoke at a noisy meeting on Monday of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee.