6,000 patients a year now request, receive medical marijuana, but predictions say number of authorizations could reach 40,000 in 2016.
Medical marijuana might best be supplied to authorized patients as part of the basket of health services determined by the Health Ministry and raised by local growers rather than imported, Knesset Anti-Drug Committee chairman MK Taleb a- San’a said on Tuesday.
Currently, medical marijuana is supplied exclusively by local growers, but the Israel Police would prefer it be imported to more carefully monitor it and prevent illegal use, which it said has been a problem.
But in a discussion on institutionalizing the provision of the drug, which is known to reduce pain and other symptoms of serious diseases, the chairman said that local supplies allowed the authorities to increase supervision of marijuana and reduce the “leaking out” of marijuana to illegitimate drug users.
Howard Rice, former chairman of the Israel Pharmacy Association, said there would be no problem for pharmacists to issue medical marijuana in their establishments.
“Even today, we keep potential dangerous and addictive drugs in pharmacies.
To require suffering patients to travel to authorized agricultural growers” is unnecessary, he insisted. At present, provision of the drug is supervised and authorized to specific patients by Dr. Yehuda Baruch of the Abarbanel State Mental Health Center in Bat Yam.
There are now 6,000 patients a year who request and receive medical marijuana, but predictions are that the number of authorizations could reach 40,000 in 2016.
MK Shai Hermesh (Kadima) attacked plans to prevent the continuation of growing medical marijuana in Israel and to allow it only to be imported. “It can’t be that one law will allow patients to use medical cannabis and at the same time another law that bars growing it here,” the MK said.
Rav-Pakad Arela Knaffo of the Israel Police said he knew of cases in which family members of patients who were authorized to receive medical marijuana continued to acquire the drug after the patient had died. There are also cases of authorized growers who illegally keep marijuana in their homes – apparently for their own use or for others‚ she said, adding that only importing marijuana would allow better supervision by the law authorities. Knaffo recommended canceling the drivers licenses of medical marijuana users so they don’t cause road accidents.
The ministry’s Motti Mashiah insisted that it was impossible to allow cannabis to be supplied in pharmacies while it is still defined as a “dangerous drug” that is illegal to others.
He added that farmers could also not supply cannabis directly to legal users, “just as Teva Pharmaceuticals doesn’t sell medications directly to patients.”
Mendy Leighton of the Association for the Struggle Against Pain said the fact that certain amounts of medical marijuana have to be protected by Brinks security guards, an expense paid for by the patients‚ was unfair, as pharmacies keep no-less-dangerous drugs inside without having any special security.
MK Rachel Adatto (Kadima), who is a trained physician, said the market for medical marijuana should not be opened to foreign imports because it would significantly raise prices compared to local supplies.
“Patients should not have to think about which cannabis to buy [more cheaply],” she said.
A representative of the growers said they are willing to have security guards stationed in the fields if this allows them to grow and market the product.
The quality of Israeli medical cannabis is among the best in the world, said Alex Barak of the National Committee for Medical Marijuana Users. “The amount of security that the police demand is more severe than in nuclear reactors,” he said.
Barak added that the ministry sometimes cancels authorization for patients even if they have not yet been cured.
There are only five physicians in the country with the power to authorize medical marijuana for children who have cancer, said Esther Azulay, who takes care of such patients. “This creates impossible situations for patients who beg to get the drug for their children but the doctor is abroad and nobody replaced him,” she said.
By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH
Police: Importing medical marijuana would curb illegal use