While Israel legalized medical cannabis for qualifying patients some years ago, the reality on the ground is often one of red-tape, lack of regulations and price hikes.
Israel’s Health Ministry just announced their intention to roll out steps making it easier for medical cannabis patients to obtain their medication. In a recent statement, Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman said, “We are attentive to criticism and to improving in order to ease the suffering of patients,” according to Israeli media sources. “We will continue to promote further activities on the matter,” Litzman added.
One of the new steps on behalf of the Health Ministry is to start overseeing the prices of medical cannabis in Israel. That oversight will be carried out by a so-called “price committee,” comprising of representatives from the Health Ministry as well as from the ministries of finance and economy. The ministry’s statement confirmed that, under the new initiative, “A large proportion of the patients will pay less than what they currently pay in the old system.”
Furthermore, the price per month for pediatric and oncology patients will be 500 NIS, (around $150) per month, regardless of how much medication is required by the patient. A price will also be set and fixed when it comes to the process of obtaining a new patient license for cannabis. That amount will be around 280 NIS (around $70).
The latest announcement comes after the Health Ministry said it would draft and release the new guidelines for medical cannabis patients in April. Patients in possession of old medical cannabis licenses will also benefit from the new rules.
Cannabis patients will also be entitled to “prescription splits” whereby they can obtain part of their monthly cannabis medication from one outlet and part from another. One medical cannabis patient in Israel spoke to the Jerusalem Post about his skepticism over the new announcement.
Harry Rubinstein, who uses medical cannabis to treat pain from Ankylosing spondylitis, said he is worried that private doctors will still be able to charge exorbitant fees despite the changes. “As far as I see it, they have to classify medical cannabis as medication, and it needs to be in what they call ‘the health basket,’ meaning that it’s subsidized by the Ministry of Health like every other medication,” he said.
Another grave concern for Rubinstein is that, due to a lack of proper regulations, many medical cannabis bags are tainted by the time they reach patients. Rubinstein complied a report about BOL Pharma, one of the large medical cannabis suppliers in Israel.
He found that 50 patients complained of receiving cannabis which was “contaminated with mold.” He also found that many of the cannabis flowers are often dry and smell like “grass clippings.” Despite that, the real issue for Rubinstein is one of supply.
“The issue right now is not splitting, there’s nothing anywhere,” he said, noting that cannabis patients often need to “go to one pharmacy, they don’t have it, they call another pharmacy, by the time they get there it’s out. There’s an extreme shortage right now in Israel. That’s the issue. So yes, it’s a great initiative, they’re going to do that, wonderful, but there are more pressing things.”
While Israel has been at the forefront of medical cannabis and CBD research and innovation for many years, patients on the ground are suffering from overpriced and substandard cannabis on a regular basis. And while there is good medical cannabis and specially cultivated CBD flowers available in the Jewish State, it’s basically on a “first-come-first-served” basis for the most part.
That can make medical cannabis a non-viable option for some patients, especially those who live far away from the main cities of the country. With all that said, it’s clear enough that the powers that be in Israel are trying to make medical cannabis access cheaper and easier for patients. That means that the new announcement is a step in the right direction, even if there’s still a long way to go.