The medical cannabis industry in Israel has declared a “historic day” in which cannabis products will now be available in regular pharmacies across the country. But alongside the celebrations, it turns out that many patients have several reasons to worry …
After more than ten years during which medical cannabis patients in Israel were forced to drag themselves to several small centers spread throughout the country, the Ministry of Health began an experimental program in which various cannabis products will be sold in regular pharmacies – alongside aspirin, sore throat tablets and other conservative medicines.
In many aspects, this is a real revolution: first of all regarding to the cannabis distribution points, which as mentioned earlier – until now have been limited to a limited number of places where the patients had to arrive independently (or to pay ridiculous sums for delivery), and in terms of availability of the product as well – since till today the cannabis was available only a few days a week, and now patients can go to the pharmacy practically every day, with no extra security measures which makes the experience much more convenient.
600% increase in price
But despite the tidings that may indicate a more liberal approach on the part of the Israeli government, there are a few serious problems that the patients were surprised to hear about at the last minute – mainly, drastic price increases and a reduction in the types of cannabis products to be sold in pharmacies.
The root of the prices issue stems from the original problematic format of the Israeli cannabis program, in which all patients pay the same amount of NIS 370 (about 75 GBP), regardless of the amount of cannabis he consumes.
For patients who are allowed to consume up to 20 grams a month, the price should stay roughly the same – but beyond that amount, it seems to be huge price jumps that patients are unlikely to be able to endure:
For example, a patient receiving 40 grams of cannabis from the Israeli Ministry of Health has used pay 370 NIS, but now he’s expected to spend 600 NIS (about 120 pounds) – almost twice as much. A patient suffering from a serious illness who is treated with 150 grams a month will be forced to fork out 2250 NIS (450 GBP). The minimum wage for a full-time job in Israel is 5,300 NIS (about 1050 GBP), so for quite a few people, it’s half a salary.
And if the price problem is not enough, patients have found out that, contrary to early promises of a wide range of cannabis products – including Buds in their raw form – it seems that at least for the time being the patients will have to make do with oil-based products or only shredded blossoms.
“People still go to jail for growing two cannabis plants”
“This is just a scandal,” says Elad, who is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his military service. “This is not a matter of privilege, it’s not about people smoking weed for fun. It’s about Basic living standards, life without pain, and sleeping well at night.”
“My pension currently stands at 4,800 NIS (960 GBP). Even without this price increase, you can imagine that it is very hard for me to make ends meet,” says Rivka, who is battling cancer. “If this reform passes, I will have to pay almost half my salary the treatment of cannabis, that’s an impossible situation. ”
Beyond the problem of rising prices, many see the reform as a victory of the pharmaceutical company “Normative people in this country are still in jail because the police caught them growing two plants” complains Ronen, a veteran activist Cannabis “But that is not important I guess as long as the old pharmaceutical companies will start selling cannabis to us in capsules and pills – after decades in which these exact companies made cannabis illegal, now they are giving the public a finger and actually benefiting from the same plant that they have demonized all these years, unbelievable.”
“We will never heighten the prices of cannabis – period”
The cannabis patients in Israel can be comforted by the fact that Aaron Lutsky, CEO of Tikkun Olam, the largest and oldest cannabis company in Israel, made a statement in which he promised not to raise the price of cannabis despite the new reform:
“We will never heighten the prices of cannabis – period,” says the CEO, adding that “the prices of Tikkun Olam are 370 NIS, that’s how it always was and will always remain, also cannabis oils given to children will remain at the same price, nothing will change, Cancer patients have no money, hundreds and thousands of shekels to pay for cannabis, they have to take care of themselves, their family, they need money to eat and drink, I think that should be the policy of all the other cannabis companies.”
It should be noted that according to the new cannabis reform, the only way in which Tikkun Olam can control the end price of the product is by opening its own pharmacies – or joining one of the private pharmacies that take part in the reform, since the vast majority of the pharmacies participating in the program belong to the “Super-Pharm” chain.
In light of the remarks made by the head of the largest cannabis company in Israel, it will be very interesting to see how the cannabis reform in the pharmacies, which is currently underway, will evolve – Will the rest of the cannabis companies align themselves and give up the price hikes? Or will Israel become a country where cannabis treatment will be a privilege only to the rich could afford? time will tell.
Originally published in Weed World Magazine Issue 135