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Is Israel’s Medical Marijuana Leader Coming to America?

Israel’s leading producer of medical marijuana is joining a local group vying for a coveted license to distribute the drug in New York State.

Tikun Olam, which serves about a third of Israeli medical marijuana patients, has joined forces with the Compassionate Care Center of New York (CCCNY) in hopes of winning one of five licenses. If the state grants CCCNY the license, Tikun Olam will ship their products and conduct research through the group starting in January.

Forty-two other companies applied for the licenses, including a handful of health groups with Jewish ties.

“We’re looking for occasions to be involved,” said Tikun Olam’s CEO, Aharon Lutzky. “We found [in] CCC in New York a wonderful team and very serious people.”

Lutzky’s son started using medical marijuana in 2008 to cope with pains from an injury. Pot was the only treatment that worked.

He became head of Tikun Olam in 2011.

“Four years ago when I began to help Tikun Olam, people looked at me in a strange way,” Lutzky said, “Now people understand how much we help.”

Unlike in America, Israel has very little controversy over the use of medical marijuana. Lutzky credits several members of parliament that support its use, as well as the new minister of health, Yael German, who in 2013 appointed 11 more doctors eligible to prescribe medical marijuana.

As marijuana can help with pain, anxiety, loss of appetite and nausea, many rabbis say that the person giving the reliever is performing a mitzvah, and therefore in line with Jewish teaching. However, many Orthodox rabbis condemn it because getting high risks losing self-control.

Although the Israeli government officially bans recreational use, the Israeli Health Ministry gives out medical licenses to a select number of producers.

Tikun Olam has monitored over 10,000 patients for nearly a decade, and plans to use its extensive research to their advantage to secure the coveted New York license.

“We are working with CCCNY,” Lutzky said. “We will share with them our knowledge in breeding, developing treatment, [and] data on our patients [so] they can learn from our experience.”

Tikun Olam recently published a study that was featured in The Israel Medical Association Journal showing that medical marijuana reduced the need for surgeries in patients with Crohn’s Disease. 50% of the patients in the cannabis group even reported complete remission.

So far, only 23 states and Washington DC have legalized medical marijuana, but doctors have advised it for a large number of diseases, such as cancer, HIV infection or AIDS, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy. Typically, the drug treats symptoms like chronic pain and seizures.

“I’m sure that it is going to be very common in a few years,” Lutzky said.

Tikun Olam has only tentative plans to expand beyond New York into the rest of the United States, as most future plans rest on state health department’s licensing decision, which is expected in the next couple of weeks.

Several other Jewish organizations also have their eyes on the coveted licenses, such as NY Growing Partners LLC, spearheaded by Michael Melnicke and Leo Friedman, according to the New York Post.

North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System (North Shore-LIJ), which teamed up with Silverpeak Apothecary, a Colorado-based company, to form Silverpeak NY LLC and increase their advantages over competitors like Tikum Olam and NY Growing Partners LLC.

Between Silverpeak’s experience and North Shore-LIJ’s resources, including their connection with the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, Silverpeak NY LLC formed a very “competitive proposal,” said spokesperson Terry Lynam.

Lynam further said that, as New York’s largest healthcare provider, North Shore-LIJ, “had a responsibility to play a central role in controlling and influencing the quality of the program standards.”

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