News, Politics

Israel Reaches Over 60k Cannabis Patients But Struggles to Satisfy Them

September 11, 2020 03:28 pm ET
Israel Reaches Over 60k Cannabis Patients But Struggles to Satisfy Them

Israel has been on the must-watch list in terms of cannabis research and medicinal innovation and now they have made headlines for reading a record high of over 60,000 medical cannabis patients. This number of cannabis patients is truly remarkable but with such high numbers, the country is struggling to avoid shortages and to meet the ever-rising demand of cannabis for treatment. 

Many may be surprised to find out that cannabis-based medication has been legal in Israel since the late 1990s and the country continues to grow into one of the world’s largest cannabis hubs. The country also possesses the most developed medicinal cannabis system outside of North America. Prior to the year 2019, Israeli citizens accessed their cannabis directly from the few licensed producers and at a fixed cost, regardless of how much cannabis they have required. However, the 2019 cannabis reforms in Israel has led to shortages in supply and many unsatisfied cannabis patients.

The 2019 Cannabis Reform in Israel

Israel’s cannabis reform was imposed by the Ministry of Health’s Medical Cannabis Association (locally referred to as Yakar) and has left vulnerable cannabis patients with problems accessing and affording cannabis treatment. The reform was intended to minimize hurdles related to cannabis treatment, however, has caused quite the opposite.  

The main sections of the reform were designated for business and patients. The business portion of the reform outlined licensing procedures for cannabis research, disposal, and transportation while the patient’s portion was to reclassify cannabis into the same category as other medications that can be prescribed. The patient’s portion also states that in order to be eligible, the medicinal cannabis patients must get controlled cannabis products sold in pharmacies, be over 18 years of age, be registered with a specialist physician as well as have a monthly prescription of 40 grams or less. 

Supply Shortages and Inconsistency Leave Many Unsatisfied

While the reform appears to be supportive for patients, the implementation has not been going so well and the ones suffering from that are the patients. The patients are experiencing delays in obtaining licenses, inabilities to renew licenses and when they can get access to cannabis, its quality and quantity are worse and less than ever before. 

The Israeli news site, The Jerusalem Post, reported that 61.1% of the complaints lodged against Yakar has been found to be valid. It also reported that the Health Ministry “was found to be unjustifiably blocking the use of cannabis in 83% of cases”. 

Israel’s cannabis reform, which came into effect on the 1st of April 2020, has outlined new quality standards for the producers which are causing compliance issues with a significant number of businesses. The new criteria for patients having to access cannabis from licensed pharmacies mean that patients are now being charged per gram, as opposed to the previous flat rate. For patients who require a rather large quantity of cannabis, the cost has become too much, especially since Yakar has not introduced or implemented any forms of rebate or reimbursement. The reform legislation allows for the importing of cannabis plants by businesses, of which half a dozen have imported 7 tons from around 12 different countries. While the cannabis consumers claim that the imported goods are superior to those grown in Israel, the cannabis patients report the inconsistent treatment as they acclimatize to the new products, await licenses, and adjust to the increase in cost. 

In an interview with Cannatech, two Israeli medical cannabis patients explained that cannabis reform is harming patients through the chain of treatment, availability of targeted trains, the increasing costs, and the invasion of privacy as a result of the licensing process. The Israeli medical cannabis supply gap may continue to widen, even if the current supply jam clears up since the reform allows for the expansion of prescription parameters. Cannabis patients who make use of extracts for consumption will most likely have to apply for a special license, especially if the plant matter in the oil is more than 100 grams. In fact, any patient who needs larger quantities of cannabis, more than 100 grams, will have to jump through flaming hoops of all heights to attain this special license. The CannaTech interview also stated that

“essentially, the sickest patients will benefit the least from the Israeli medical cannabis reform”. 

Some patients have even reported experiencing public shaming and are dealing with the same stigma associated with that of a drug addict. Yet, the number of individuals turning to cannabis continues to rise in this cannabis research and development hub. If Yakar’s intention of paving easier access to medicinal cannabis is true, then the supply gap, cost of cannabis to consumers, stigma, and other bumps need to be worked out…for the sake of the Israeli cannabis patients. 

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