Health Ministry asks for public comment on medical cannabis

Although cannabis is not defined as a drug, there is much evidence that it may relieve the suffering of patients suffering from certain medical conditions

Seach medical cannabis farm (photo credit: SEACH MEDICAL GROUP)
Seach medical cannabis farm
(photo credit: SEACH MEDICAL GROUP)

The Health Ministry has asked the public for its opinion on changing requirements for being allowed to purchase medical cannabis. The proposed change would replace licenses issued by a handful of physicians with prescriptions that could be given by any medical specialist working in a public health fund or hospital who has undergone appropriate training for it.

The transition has already been recommended by a committee headed by former ministry director-general Dr. Boaz Lev. After the public comments (by September 13), the change can be presented to the Knesset for official approval.

Some 114,000 Israelis are currently licensed for the right to purchase medical cannabis at pharmacies. Although cannabis is not defined as a drug, there is much evidence that it may relieve the suffering of patients with certain medical conditions including Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy and seizures, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis (as well as other neurological issues), muscle spasms, severe and chronic pain, and severe nausea or vomiting caused by cancer treatment.

However, today patients who need medical cannabis are required to obtain a license from the state. The process involves bureaucracy and dealing with a relatively limited number of doctors authorized to practice in the field. Many patients turn to private doctors and pay large sums to obtain a license.

After the work of the staff of the Lev Committee, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz asked for a comprehensive outline of a transition from licenses to prescriptions allowing any Israeli medical specialist doctor in public medicine to issue a prescription for medical cannabis. The outline is conditional on approval of the regulations in the Knesset.

 Shai Avraham Sarid at the Seach medical cannabis farm (credit: SEACH MEDICAL GROUP) Shai Avraham Sarid at the Seach medical cannabis farm (credit: SEACH MEDICAL GROUP)

The outline includes the regulation of operational and financial issues and also allows the health funds to approve licenses in the interim period.

The outline and the relevant documents have been published for public comments to [email protected] until September 13. After that, the relevant comments will be incorporated in the final outline, which will then be submitted for approval by the health minister and forwarded to the Knesset for final consent.

Cannabis regulation in Israel

The regulation and responsibility for the topic are centralized and carried out by the ministry’s medical cannabis unit headed by Ran Ridnik. The four public health funds will be able to establish a set of approvals in which requests for prescriptions received from each specialist physician in his field of expertise will be examined.

The health funds will submit a request to collect a deductible, according to which an annual collection of NIS 360 will be made to existing patients for the approval of the prescription. A one-time annual fee of NIS 720 will be paid by a new patient for approval of a prescription and the specialist’s time. Existing patients with licenses will pay a fee of NIS 360 for approval.

The arrangements will take effect 180 days from the moment they are approved by the Knesset. In the interim, the health funds will be able to issue licenses to patients. Additional regulatory measures will be made to reduce the price of medical cannabis, creating a solution for the interim period, so that the accessibility of issuing licenses to patients is maintained and the HMOs can continue to operate the system of issuing licenses.