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Israel News

Israelis Might Soon Get Their Pot at the Prescription Counter

If Health Minister Yaakov Litzman has his way, Israelis might soon be able to get pot along with their aspirin at the local drugstore. Pending regulations from the Health Ministry, Israel’s biggest pharmacy conglomerate will dispense medical marijuana at its hundreds of locations, according to a report in Ha’aretz.

Israel currently allows sick people to purchase marijuana directly from growers once they have a prescription. But they have to go to a distribution center or sign up for home delivery to receive the product. If the government’s talks with the chain Super-Pharm pan out, then patients could pick up their pot with their other medications. Pharmacists might also be allowed to prescribe the substance to people on the spot.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, of the Haredi United Torah Judaism party, first announced plans for the move in a session of the Knesset last year.

“Today pharmacies give out all kind of drugs, including narcotics such as morphine, and it’s done in a perfectly orderly fashion. So marijuana will be handled the same way,” he said. “It will be prescribed and monitored by the same standards as other medications.”

Litzman, who heads the United Torah Judaism party, said the move would ease pressure on the overcrowded medical marijuana dispensaries that struggle to serve thousands of Israelis prescribed the drug.

Litzman’s plan was praised at the time by Tamar Zandberg, a member of the leftwing Meretz party – a rare occurrence as her and Litzman’s factions are on opposite ends of the political spectrum.

“We heard a revolutionary statement on this issue for the first time in several years,” she said. “This is huge news.”

Israel has become an epicenter of medical research into cannabis, with scientists working to create a version of the drug that gives patients its benefits — like reducing inflammation and relieving pain — absent the use of the active ingredients that make recreational users high.

A March report in Arutz Sheva noted that almost two dozen Israeli universities now have research centers for cannabis, and new startups are being launched around the country to refine its production and use.

American tobacco company Phillip Morris even invested $20 million in Syke, an Israeli company that develops medical marijuana inhalers.

According to government statistics, around 27,000 people were treated with medical marijuana last year.

Micki Ofer, a former head of the Pharmaceutical Society of Israel who has been involved in Litzman’s planning efforts, told Ha’aretz that the new rule would send medical use of marijuana soaring.

“After the program comes into effect and more doctors are certified to issue prescriptions, the number of patients using the plant will skyrocket to around 100,000.”

Contact Daniel J. Solomon at solomon@forward.com or on Twitter @DanielJSolomon

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