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Top doctor arrested in medical marijuana ring bust

Police say hospital department head made millions selling false recommendations for licenses, ran nationwide network

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

A medical marijuana plant (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
A medical marijuana plant (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

The head of anesthesiology at a hospital in central Israel was arrested Tuesday morning on suspicion of running an illegal marijuana trading network. According to police, 11 other suspects have also been taken into custody.

Police alleged the doctor presided over a complex web of middlemen who sold recommendations for medical marijuana licenses, raking in millions of shekels in return for the false documents.

Following an undercover investigation, conducted together with the Israel Tax Authority and the Health Ministry, officers from the Israel Police’s Central District arrested the 65-year-old doctor at his home Tuesday morning. Police say they also arrested a 37-year-old resident of Emek Hefer suspected of setting up a network of brokers across the country, along with 10 other middlemen who found customers through word of mouth.

Officers raided the homes of the suspects, seizing computers and numerous documents thought to be connected to the scheme, police said.

Major General Motti Cohen, commander of Central District, said the doctor abused a system created to ease suffering in real patients.

“There are serious concerns that in exchange for money, a doctor and a group of suspects around him took a system approved by the county for reducing pain, and institutionalized it to illegally supply drugs,” Cohen said.

He told Army Radio Monday morning that customers would be charged up to NIS 10,000 ($2,550) for the service. Using his expertise in the field of pain relief, the doctor would falsify medical records to allow customers to meet the legal criteria for a license to buy the drug.

Police are working on the assumption that some of the drugs received as a result of scheme may have also have been sold illegally.

Marijuana is illegal in Israel for recreational use, but medical use has been permitted since the early 1990s for cancer patients and those with pain-related illnesses such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and even post-traumatic stress disorder. Patients can smoke the drug, ingest it in liquid form, or apply it to the skin as a balm.

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 25,000 people medically licensed to use the drug.

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