In perhaps one of the most bureaucratic and medicalized versions of 4/20 celebrations, this April 20th, Israel will reach a landmark in its cannabis reform and will officially launch its cannabis medicalization pilot program. The reform will allow Israeli medical cannabis license holders to enter one of 20 authorized Israeli pharmacies (namely local pharmacy-chain giant: SuperPharm), and purchase their cannabis with a prescription from their doctor.
This historic move is part of Israel’s medical cannabis reform that was spearheaded by the Ministry of Health and approved by the government in 2016. The written reform, affectionately called “The Green Book” also includes a detailed certification process for doctors and pharmacists.
Alongside the celebration of Israel’s 70th year of Independence, this April Israel will be well on its way to becoming the first country in the world to sell medical cannabis products with strict a GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) standard. And the first country to officially and publicly usher cannabis into an established medical model, as a medical product, just like any other medical product in the pharmacy; with clear labeling, a shelf life and with a list of all active ingredients and indications.
Not too shabby.
How Will It Work?
The Ministry of Health (aka “The Regulator”) chaperons and supervises each major link in the medical cannabis production chain; breeding farms, grow farms, processing and manufacturing plants (all under new supervision rules, as part of the reform), sorting and distribution centers and pharmacies.
The top of the chain is headed by the “National Center for Cannabis” located at the famed Volcani Center, which is the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development’s Agricultural Research Center (ARO) in conjunction with the special cannabis unit (The Yakar) of the Ministry of Health. They are responsible for all genetics of medical cannabis strains, monitoring and providing the products for growers and function as “ground zero” for strain development.
Yuval Landschaft, head of the cannabis unit recently explained to a group of CannaTech participants visiting the Knesset how he spearheaded the creation of what he calls “The Torah of Cannabis” regulation. Landschaft’s “Torah of Cannabis,” which he also dubbed “Cannacopia,” contains five sections on Israel Medical Cannabis: IMC-GCP, IMC-GAP, IMC-GMP, IMC-GDP and IMC-GSP (Good Clinical Practice, Good Agricultural Practice, Good Manufacturing Practice, Good Delivery Practice and Good Security Practice).
In a recent article in Calcalist, Sefi Krupsky reported that the number of pharmacies that will be approved to sell cannabis products will not be limited in the final stage of this roll-out, but will of course, be required to meet specific conditions. The supply and management of cannabis products in pharmacies will be carried in the same manner as narcotic drugs, with explicit indications and no shortage of proof of identification, signatures and stamps.
At the very least, a very positive first step.
High Hopes For Israel Cannabis Market
According to Krupsky’s report, as of today, Israel’s medical cannabis industry revenue is approximately NIS 100 million a year, and according to other local industry sources, these amounts are expected to rise to over NIS 1 billion in the next three to five years. The products sold are not yet subsidized by the state or the national health funds, and are expected to be quite expensive for patients in this first stage – over NIS 500 on average for a single product, be it an extract, tablet or flower, compared to NIS 350 on average today.
This reform places Israel as one of the most advanced countries in the world with regard to its stance on medical cannabis production and its acceptance in socialized medical programs.
Former Director-General of the Ministry of Health, Professor Arnon Afek, who is also one of the leaders of the reform, explained in a conversation with Calcalist that “cannabis was in medical use many years ago, but in the middle of the last century it was declared a dangerous drug. This has stalled research and medical use, so that there is not enough scientific evidence for it today.”
It is only in the last few years that the research really been renewed and as a result the approach to the plant has shifted. Prof. Afek commented that in light of this conceptual change, “We have established a medical labeling committee that examines all existing information, such as cannabis as a treatment option for epilepsy and inflammatory bowel disease, [and have learned that cannabis] at least in theory, has the potential to help with autism and other types of medical problems.”
Israel, along with much of the Western world, are waking to the rediscovery that cannabis is indeed a viable medical option for many health care issues.
Throughout the next six months, the distribution centers and companies that currently dispense cannabis, like Tikun Olam will continue to operate, but at the end of this six month period, these distribution centers will be closed, and each grower and/or manufacturer will only be able to sell their products in licensed pharmacies.
Krupsky speculates that due to the rise in quality and supervision required, the price of medical cannabis and the availability of government subsidy will be one of the burning issues on the table of the “Health Care Benefits Committee” in 2018. Medical cannabis is expected to be included in the “basket” of health care drugs, and therefore, its price is expected to be subsidized by the state.
On behalf of all of us here at iCAN:israel-cannabis and CannaTech, we would like to offer three cheers for democracy, celebrate the opportunity to use business as a force to do good. Game on.