Israel distributes more medical marijuana than any European country, Health Minister Yael German (Yesh Atid) said Wednesday at a Knesset hearing amid the ministry’s recent attempts to regulate its distribution of the unconventional treatment.
German said every patient who needs medical marijuana should receive it. The question of legality of the nonmedical version should be addressed completely separately, she said.
“I think people who are helped by cannabis should be able to receive it, but that we should keep its legalization as a separate issue, and not to mix them,” German said, defending the ministry’s practice of permitting certain sufferers to legally use the contraband substance.
“Cannabis is not a medical drug. Its effectiveness has not been proven empirically, yet there’s evidence that it helps alleviate pain,” German said at the start of the discussion. “It’s defined as a dangerous substance, and therefore a permit is needed to use it.”
The hearing was scheduled at the behest of MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud), an avowed supporter of the legalization of marijuana, who claimed recent ministry regulations deny tens of thousands of patients the medical treatment they have hitherto received or were set to receive.
Last week, a group of patients and doctors marched outside German’s home in protest over the ministry’s restrictions. They called for the disbanding of the ministry’s new committee that oversees the disbursement of substance.
The protesters argued that the list of illnesses for which patients could receive cannabis was “arbitrary and discriminatory” and neglected to include some who really needed it. Doctors said that patients’ rights weren’t being met and that the move would force them to seek marijuana from illegal sources.
“By trying to prevent the public from obtaining marijuana, patients who are really in need of it are being caused to suffer,” Feiglin said, asserting that an individual’s doctor should be able to recommend whether or not he or she needs the healing herb.
The Health Ministry’s efforts to establish procedures for the distribution of cannabis, German said, doesn’t mean future applicants won’t be able to receive it.
Contrary to popular misconceptions, “Israel distributes nearly 880 pounds (400 kilograms) of cannabis per month,” she said. “The Netherlands in comparison only provides a small portion — 330 pounds (150 kilograms) — per year.”
According to the ministry, some 11,000 Israelis are currently prescribed the green plant.