In ‘revolutionary’ shift, cannabis to be sold in pharmacies
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In ‘revolutionary’ shift, cannabis to be sold in pharmacies

Deputy health minister says medical marijuana will be prescribed and supervised like medications classified as narcotic

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative image of someone purchasing medicinal marijuana in Tel Aviv. (Abir Sultan/Flash90)
Illustrative image of someone purchasing medicinal marijuana in Tel Aviv. (Abir Sultan/Flash90)

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman announced Monday that pharmacies will be stocked with medical marijuana to ease the often arduous bureaucratic process faced by patients prescribed the drug.

During an address to the Knesset Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, Litzman said the current system of dispensing medical marijuana to patients was unbalanced.

“Today pharmacies give out all kind of drugs, including narcotics such as morphine, and it’s done in a perfectly orderly fashion. So marijuana will be handled the same way,” he said.

“It will be prescribed and monitored by the same standards as other medications,” he added.

Litzman, who heads the United Torah Judaism party, said the move would ease pressure on the overcrowded medical marijuana dispensaries that struggle to serve thousands of Israelis prescribed the drug.

Committee chairwoman Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) thanked the deputy minister for his “revolutionary” decision and hailed the ultra-Orthodox lawmaker for publicly supporting the initiative.

“We heard a revolutionary statement on this issue for the first time in several years,” the Meretz MK said.

“This is huge news. Thank you for publicly stating your principles on this matter. I think many people will welcome this change,” she added.

United Torah Judaism MK Yaakov Litzman in the Knesset, September 15, 2014 (Photo credit: Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
United Torah Judaism MK Yaakov Litzman in the Knesset, September 15, 2014 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Zionist Union MK Shelly Yachimovich, who also serves on the committee, hailed Litzman’s decision as a humane solution for those suffering from chronic illnesses who are forced to undergo a frustrating bureaucratic process to fill their prescription.

“Cannabis is a source of hope and healing for many when every other medicine has failed,” she wrote in a Facebook post, noting, too, her support for full decriminalization of the drug for recreational use.

Litzman said the Health Ministry would seek to publish a tender allowing additional farmers to grow cannabis for medical purposes, but was being challenged by the current growers on technical grounds. The ministry was hoping to double the number of government-approved cannabis growers in Israel, which currently stands at eight, he said.

Earlier this year, Litzman sought state subsidies for medicinal marijuana, after parents of dozens of children suffering from severe cases of epilepsy turned to him for assistance.

Israel has gained a reputation as an expert grower of cannabis for use as a pain reliever for those suffering from serious illnesses, such as cancer, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis. Among Western countries, Israel already has one of the highest per-capita rates of legal cannabis use, with over 21,000 people medically licensed to use the drug.

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg attends a committee meeting in the Knesset on June 30, 2015 (Issac Harari/Flash90)
Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg attends a committee meeting in the Knesset on June 30, 2015 (Issac Harari/Flash90)

Public attitude toward cannabis has been shifting in recent years, not only in support of its medicinal use, but also in calling for decriminalization or legalization of its recreational use.

Last month, a number of Knesset members introduced legislation to decriminalize marijuana that would allow Israelis over the age of 21 to hold up to one plant, 15 seeds, and five grams of pot without penalty.

Under the move, spearheaded by freshman MK Yinon Magal (Jewish Home party), the plant would be legal for private use, with individuals allowed to keep small amounts of cannabis and derivative products in their homes.

Similar bills have been shot down in the past, but legalization activists have high hopes this time, after a group of eight Knesset members from across the political spectrum indicated they would support the proposal.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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