State ‘complaints report’ talks pot, prisons, P.O. and more

Gov’t found to be wrongly blocking medical cannabis use for patients with legitimate needs

cannabis background macro close up (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
cannabis background macro close up
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
In 2017, the Health Ministry was unjustifiably blocking the use of cannabis in 83% of the cases in which persons seeking to use it for medical purposes filed complaints, the Representative for Public Complaints Report said on Monday. It was one of several issues outlined in this year’s report.
The report by the complaints representative, a role held by State Comptroller Joseph Shapira, said: “Many sick people had fallen victim to an abundance of bureaucratic pitfalls when they appealed to the [Health Ministry] unit for getting a cannabis license or for renewing their license.”
Further, Shapira said that those pitfalls included “substantial delays for intake of the requests and for handling the requests, as well as a failure to update [the applicants on the status of their requests].”
Delays included no practical ability to get through to representatives by telephone; failing to respond to inquiries in writing and by fax; and a general approach of being suspicious of those seeking cannabis use.
Overall, the comptroller said the outdated mentality of the Health Ministry unit dealing with cannabis, and not a lack of resources, was a primary cause of the problem.
In parallel to the report, there are various initiatives underway to make cannabis for medical purposes more accessible.
In many cases, only the intervention of the representative broke through the bureaucratic obstacles blocking the use of cannabis that was clearly necessary for medical purposes, said the report.
Also outlined in the report, as in past years, were criticisms of the prisons and the police for failing to provide “minimum basic conditions and dignity” for prisoners, including findings of cell space beneath the minimum required and inadequate health services.
The comptroller is not the only one who has lambasted the inadequate cell space for prisoners. In June 2017, then-justice Elyakim Rubinstein announced at his retirement ceremony that the state would need to rectify the lack of sufficient space per cell within 18 months, by January 2019.
The High Court of Justice decision also required the state to make sure that all prisoners would have a minimum of 3 sq.m. of cell space within nine months of the ruling, while providing 18 months for the state to comply with Israeli and international law on the issue, which requires a minimum of 4 sq.m. per prisoner.
Two weeks ago, the state updated the High Court that it was working on a variety of projects to renovate prisons faster by streamlining procedures and was considering expanding the use of tent-style cells next to some prisons to expand cell space.
In March, the state notified the court that the cell space issue had already been addressed for around 1,800 of the 6,000 cells, and that 823 new proper-sized cells would be built by 2019. However, it asked for nine years to fully fulfill the court order – which the court has signaled is far too long to wait.
Another area discussed by the report is complaints by whistle-blowers who say that their supervisors retaliated against them for informing on them to authorities.
The report said that in 2017, there were 48 such complaints and that 17 of the complainants were issued full legal protection by the comptroller. In 14 of the other cases, either Shapira intervened to help the sides reach a compromise or the sides reached an agreement on an amount of compensation to give the complainant.
The report also deals with complaints where free speech on Facebook was limited, with critical reactions to public officials deleted from their Facebook pages.
Shapira took the strong position that such posting limitations must be very selective and cannot be enforced simply because powerful public officials do not like to be criticized.
In total, there were 13,573 complaints against government bodies in 2017. 43.8% of all complaints were found to be justified, or the issue in dispute was addressed.
The worst offender was the post office with 77.2% of all the 446 complaints against it found to be unjustified. Some 48% of the 209 complaints against the tax authority were similarly uncalled for, as well as 36.9% of the 222 complaints against the Population and Border Immigration Authority, which has had problems with its biometric passport rollout. The National Insurance Institute was hit with the largest volume of complaints at 979, but only 18.9% were found to be unjustified.