Israeli Medical Cannabis Patients Feeling Left Out of Latest Reform Measures

The nation of Israel has long been at the forefront of the medical marijuana movement dating back well over a half a century. In 1964, a Bulgarian born Holocaust survivor by the name of Raphael Mechoulam was working as a young professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem when he convinced a friendly police officer to help him smuggle 11 pounds of hash from an evidence room to his on-campus lab. Mechoulam was not looking to get stoned, per se, but he was absolutely fascinated by the mechanisms in the plant that caused that sensation.

His research led to the first true isolation and in-depth examination of both the CBD and the THC molecules and spawned the entire medical side of marijuana, giving the plant a legitimate purpose in the eyes of so many who, until then, could not see past the stigma.

In 1973, Israel first made MMJ available by prescription only, and only in rare circumstances, but research continued in earnest as Professor Mechoulam’s work gained notoriety. The program expanded in the year 2000, and by 2004 even the Israeli military was using isolated THC to treat troops suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In 2012, there were roughly 10,000 registered medical marijuana patients in the country but today that number is over 46,000 and rising, although, so are patients’ tensions. In September of this year, the way that Israeli MMJ patients bought their weed changed rather dramatically and raises the question – who is this program supposed to benefit?

Prior to the changes last month, all MMJ patients paid the same fixed monthly fee of NIS370 – the equivalent of about $105 here) for access to up to as much flower or other cannabis-related products as their doctor would prescribe in that 30 day period. I doubt it is 5-star weed, but still sounds like a helluva deal!

Well… was a helluva deal…

The way it works now is all products must flow to the public by way of a pharmacy. No longer can growers or manufacturers sell directly to the public. Additionally, the pharmacies now charge NIS 180 (or $51) for 10 grams of weed. So, essentially, if you are a patient who requires more than 20-ish grams of weed each month (like me), you’re now paying more for your medicine than you did before this reform took root.

Patients and advocates fought this change every step of the way and in the end, were forced to settle for a very temporary grandfathering of the old price scale for those who registered pre-reform. Tens of thousands of patients will still need to visit a pharmacy but will be able to receive the original pricing until March 1st, 2020. The courts also ordered the country’s registered growers to revert their pricing back to pre-reform levels through February of next year, and that is where the finger-pointing begins.

The courts also ordered the pharmacies to lower their prices to a level that was never in their business plan, and some have been found to be out of compliance, trying to get the newer, higher prices. When confronted by regulators they point to the growers, accusing them of fabricating false shortages and manipulating market inventory to dictate the higher prices that they see as a benefit from the newly reformed laws.

For their part, the growers point right back at the pharmacies who, by order of the country’s supreme court, must return all “non-standardized” product (ie. everything meant to be sold at the old lower prices under the old rules until March of next year) to the growers so that they can sell it direct to the consumers as they always had. The growers say that the shops are not only lagging about shipping back the non-compliant products but that they are still selling it when, by law, it is not theirs to sell anymore.

Meanwhile, a growing number of patients in the world’s oldest established medical marijuana market are wishing someone would point a finger at them and ask, for once, “What would be best for you?”

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