On April 20, Israelis will be able to pick up medical cannabis products at their local pharmacies. That’s according to an announcement from the Ministry of Health. The pharmacy pilot program is the latest development in the Israeli government’s cannabis reform policy.
Until now, Israelis could only get medical cannabis prescriptions filled at designated dispensaries or in psychiatric hospitals.
In California, doctors don’t provide prescriptions because marijuana is banned by the federal government but rather can offer a “letter of recommendation” which can then be filled at dispensaries. But in Israel, just a handful of doctors are permitted to prescribe medical marijuana, and there are select few places to purchase cannabis. Until recently, this meant patients prescribed cannabis had to deal with long wait times — some stretching months.
The new pharmacy proposal, scheduled to take effect on cannabis-friendly April 20, details that any apothecary meeting the Health Ministry’s criteria will be allowed to sell the substance. According to local reports, medical cannabis will be sold in the form of cigarettes, cookies and oil.
Two local manufacturing plants will be the initial providers of cannabis products for the pilot program: Panaxia, in cooperation with the Rafa Pharmaceutical distribution company, and Breath of Life Pharma.
Company leaders say they welcome the regulation set out by the Health Ministry, which imposes strict supervision over pharmacy sales in an effort to keep cannabis products from reaching the recreational drug market.
“The cannabis industry in the U.S. and Europe is characterized by the lack of uniformity and standardization,” Tamir Gedo, CEO of BOL Pharma, told Calcalist. “The lack of industry standards and regulation prevents pharma and biotech companies from entering the field of cannabis.”
Gedo says Israel’s regulations could change that.
“The Israeli Ministry of Health managed to create a very clever ecosystem. On the one hand, it is sparking a lot of innovation. On the other hand, it is a very careful, medical-based system … and this is something that is very clever. You can be conservative and innovative at the same time,” Gedo told Emerald Report in an earlier interview.
Some 33,000 Israelis hold prescriptions for medical cannabis. Patients in Israel can only obtain a prescription for medical cannabis only after trying traditional medications for one year without seeing improvement.
In addition to adding dispensary points in the pharmacies, the new reform will open the market to more growers and companies in the field. But the government’s report says licenses will not be granted for cultivation for individual use.
For companies like Kanabo Research, the firm behind the VapePod vaporizer for medical cannabis extracts and formulations, this move toward allowing more growers is a welcome change.
“This reform totally breaks the way it was before, the stronghold of the eight farms that had all the licenses,” David Sack, founder and COO of Kanabo told Emerald Report. “The reform has split the licenses into different licenses so now you can grow, do R&D, produce, etc. and you need a license for each different thing. It means companies like Kanabo can have a platform and sell products.”
The pharmacy reform was initially meant to launch alongside a government go-ahead to legalize medical cannabis exports.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the media about an agreement to legalize medical cannabis exports. But like previous proclamations on cannabis, a fresh squabble between the Israeli Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Finance again derailed the reform of medical cannabis exports.
“I support the use of cannabis for medical purposes as well as its export to the world in light of our advanced knowledge in the field,” said Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan. He was widely considered the person responsible for delaying an announcement on cannabis exports in February.
The local cannabis industry has been expecting a government announcement since marijuana regulation reforms began in 2016.
Despite uncertainty over the export ruling, North American and European companies continue looking to Israel for collaboration opportunities. Israel boasts one of the oldest medicinal cannabis programs in the world and is renowned in innovation, scientific research and agriculture.
In April, Together Pharma announced that its subsidiary, Globus Pharma, had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to sell 50 tons of dried cannabis flowers each year, equivalent to five tons of medical cannabis oil.
“The [imminent] move to allow exports of finished goods is great,” said Saul Kaye, CEO of iCAN: Israel-Cannabis.
But Kaye says he wants the export proposal to also include flower exports.
“The world demand for cannabis flower is a huge opportunity that is being missed, he said. “The move to export certain Israeli products is a great first step, but we need to continue to lobby for flower exports as well.”