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Health Ministry approves more doctors to prescribe marijuana

Legislators say government is still withholding treatment from some who need it

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for 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)

The number of patients treated with medical marijuana will continue to grow and the number of doctors allowed to prescribe the cure is to be doubled, Health Ministry director general Roni Gamzo announced Monday after a Knesset hearing on the issue.

“We’ve taken upon ourselves to regulate the issue of medical cannabis, but it takes time,” Gamzo told legislators. He denied reports that the ministry had withdrawn permits already given to patients, adding that doctors could still work according to existing regulations until the process was completed.

The ministry recently completed drafting new guidelines regarding the prescription and use of medical marijuana. Health Minister Yael German earlier this month fended off critics who argued that the list of illnesses for which patients could receive cannabis was “arbitrary and discriminatory,” thus leaving some some who really needed it out in the cold.

In addition to continuing the supply for those who already receive it, Gamzo said, the ministry would license 11 more doctors do prescribe medical marijuana, taking pressure off the nine doctors who currently take care of all patient requests.

Following Monday’s session, Knesset Health Committee head Haim Katz (Likud) said a subcommittee would be established to ensure the legislative branch was kept up to date regarding decisions made by the ministry.

“If it’s necessary, we’ll solve the issue through legislation. We want those found appropriate to receive [medical marijuana], and those who [shouldn’t] not to get it,” Katz said.

“On the one hand we’ll uphold the law, and on the other we’ll allow anyone who needs the treatment to receive it” German said.

MKs Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) and Moshe Feiglin (Likud) called on the ministry not to limit the number of doctors licensed to prescribe cannabis. They said all physicians who are familiar with their patients’ needs should be allowed to prescribe the drug.

“Have you lost your mind?” Feiglin asked Health Ministry officials. “I don’t know if [this restrictive policy] is motivated by obtuseness, evil or special interests,” he said.

Labor MK Miki Rosenthal also criticized the ministry’s position. “Just because there are a few people who use [medical marijuana] despite not really needing it, we’ve all become suspects in the eyes of the Health Ministry. It’s awful.”

Israel distributes more medical marijuana than any European country, German said in a Knesset meeting last week.

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.

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