Medical Marijuana Industry Sprouts Up in Israel
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So, the committee got creative. First, they approached the police force see if they would provide confiscated cannabis for medical use, but the cops “didn't want to become known as cannabis suppliers for sick people,” Wachtel said.
After dozens of meetings and efforts, the committee circulated the idea that patients might grow cannabis for themselves.
“I knew this wasn't a good option because these are sick people, and sick people can’t be good gardeners,” he said. “But we went for that solution, and it was a limited solution for limited number of patients.”
In the meantime, the committee worked to educate medical personnel and the public about cannabis, via conferences and media outreach. Eventually a doctor named Yehuda Baruch, head of Israel’s Abarbanel Hospital was nominated to run a nascent program called the Medical Cannabis Initiative Program.
Several dozen meetings later, in 2007, the Ministry of Health assigned its first license to a patient to grow 50 cannabis plants.
The minister of health decided it wasn’t fair for just one person in the country to hold a cannabis grow license, so he asked Wachtel to bring other interested growers to his attention. Wachtel brought three more growers, then others joined and eventually the government awarded 18 grow licenses.
For the first year and a half growers gave cannabis to patients for free, though it soon became clear this was an unsustainable approach. Finally, the Ministry of Health decided to charge all medical cannabis patients a $100 flat monthly fee, regardless of the amount of cannabis they consumed. This system remains in place today.
Initially the program provided 100 grams a month to patients, and slowly the amount decreased. Today the average dose per month is about an ounce per patient.
Wachtel said while unfortunately cannabis is not yet a first-line option for patients in Israel, it has finally become an accepted form of medical treatment.
“The cannabis medicalization movement, which I am proud to be a member of … has a lot to do with changing the public's and decision-makers’ perceptions of cannabis and reversing government's propagandistic and false descriptions of what cannabis is in reality,” Wachtel said. “The success of cannabis medicalization on national levels in countries such as Israel, Canada, Netherlands, is pointing to the fact that medical cannabis programs... help the sick and the dying.”