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Israel’s High Court Halts Medical Cannabis Reform

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Dec 10, 2019   
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Israel’s High Court of Justice has ordered a temporary freeze on reforms to the country’s supply of medical cannabis.

The interim order, which was issued on December 5, concerns pricing issues between patients and suppliers.

Israeli cannabis suppliers have been given ten days to re-adopt the old pricing system used before the reform efforts began.

Israel’s rocky cannabis reform

Israel brought in a new suite of cannabis reforms in early September. Intended to help standardize the nation’s legal medical cannabis industry, the reforms required more rigorous quality control measures and placed pharmacies as ‘middlemen’ between cultivators and patients. Instead, the country has been hit by market shortages and inflated prices.

Previously, patients with a medical cannabis license paid a flat rate of 370 shekels (approximately US$106) per month for their cannabis, regardless of the amount they were prescribed. But under the new legislation, the industry were required to determine the cost of their own products in accordance with their active ingredient ratio.

Regulators assumed that there would be enough market players to create healthy competition, drive down prices, and make medical cannabis affordable to a greater majority of patients. Instead, letting the cost be determined by the free market has led to an increase in price for many patients.

According to the Israeli news website CTech, pharmacies are now charging around 180 shekels (approx. US$51) per 10 grams of medical cannabis, meaning that anybody requiring more than 20 grams each month is now paying more than they would have done before the reform.

With some patients requiring large quantities of cannabis – sometimes up to 100 grams or more – to effectively manage their conditions, the Medical Cannabis Association decided to petition the High Court over the price rises on the behalf of patients suffering from the increased prices.

Halting reform to bring lower prices to patients

The High Court previously issued an interim ruling, which asked companies to continue using the old pricing method while discussions were ongoing.

Thursday’s ruling gives companies “who believed the interim order did not apply to them,” ten days to re-adopt the old pricing system and establishes a freeze on the nation’s cannabis reform effective from December 15 through the end of March.

The ruling has also ordered the Health Ministry to explain why “no maximum price was set for medical cannabis products, both for companies whose license [to produce cannabis] was supposed to expire and for those whose license were granted as part of the new reform.”

The Health Ministry has said that they accept the High Court’s decision and will work to implement it.

“Justice Melcer emphasizes the importance of the price issue, something the ministry is working for and supporting. The decision promotes the issue and obligates the price committee to make a decision,” the ministry's statement said.

Others in the industry are less happy about the freeze on reform.

“Unfortunately, the court received a distorted and partial picture of reality, due to the manner in which the petition was filed and the procedure was conducted,” Meir Ariel, the CEO of Bazelet Group, told the Jerusalem Post.

“Now, instead of quality material getting to patients, we are likely to see a surge in black market supply. I respect the court and am careful with my language, but the judges have fallen here to the most demagogic and irresponsible place.”

The Bazelet Group consists of four major pharmaceutical companies and operates a GMP-compliant manufacturing facility with the capacity to supply medical cannabis to around 100,000 patients.

“What will happen now is that patients will receive cannabis that was not tested in the laboratory, which has not been monitored for pesticide use or another thousand quality control processes,” Ariel continued.

“In no country in the world is there a system of price control yet no limit on the quantity of grams. It is a crooked Israeli invention that was born in sin and there is no place to uphold it.”

Cannabis in Israel

Israel is a hot spot for medical cannabis research. Professor Raphael Mechoulam, the ‘father of cannabis science’ and first scientist to isolate THC, has conducted much of his revolutionary research within the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Medical cannabis use has been permitted in Israel since the early 1990s, and earlier this year the country took its first steps towards allowing recreational use by partially decriminalizing its use and possession.

Israeli government has also recently rescinded a past memo on the import and export of cannabis, thereby finally approving the export of cannabis from Israel to the international market. Previously exports were allowed, but only after domestic demand was met. It’s hoped that the November decision to allow international cannabis imports into Israel will ease the domestic cannabis shortages currently affecting the Israeli market.

Alexander Beadle

Science Writer

Alexander Beadle has been working as a freelance science writer since 2017 and has covered the cannabis industry for Analytical Cannabis since 2018. He has also written for our sister publication, Technology Networks, and the cannabis industry consultant firm Prohibition Partners, among others. Alexander holds a Master's in Materials Chemistry from the University of St. Andrews, where he won a Chemistry Purdie scholarship, and conducted research into zeolite crystal growth mechanisms and the action of single-molecule transistors.


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