Israel’s new rules might spur growth in medical cannabis industry

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Image of Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv, Israel

Beginning in March, specialist doctors at public hospitals such as Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv will be allowed to prescribe cannabis. (Photo by Fotokon/stock.adobe.com)

New rules implemented in January by Israel’s Ministry of Health to ease the path for physicians approving medical cannabis – along with further regulatory changes later this year – are expected to spur growth in the nation’s industry, local experts told MJBizDaily.

The Ministry of Health is giving specialist physicians broader discretion when administering medical cannabis and removing some restrictions that had been in place.

The changes “help increase the medical autonomy of the specialist physicians while also improving availability and reducing bureaucracy for patients who require medical cannabis,” the ministry said in a statement announcing the changes.

The new measures, which are effective immediately, are only the first step of a major regulatory overhaul of Israel’s medical marijuana program.

Further changes will take effect in late March.

The main points of January’s update include:

  • Allowing specialist doctors more discretion to administer medical cannabis.
  • Canceling the stipulation that medical marijuana be administered only as a last resort, in certain cases.
  • Changes to when patients suffering from moderate to severe PTSD are eligible for medical marijuana licenses.

Israeli marijuana producer IM Cannabis Corp. said in December that the full regulatory overhaul faced a delay because of the Israel-Hamas war.

“As I had said when the overhaul of the cannabis regulation was first published in August, we believed it could change the face of the medical cannabis market in Israel, facilitating the access of medical cannabis for many new patients. We still believe this to be the case,” CEO Oren Shuster said in a December statement.

More significant changes are coming to the Israeli market in March.

Those include:

  • Transitioning to a “prescription” system and away from a “personal license” model.
  • More alignment of packaging and labeling with pharma rules.
  • Allowing cannabis to be prescribed by specialist doctors working at a public-sector health provider or public hospitals.

Broader access

Experts said the new rules remove the stipulation that medical cannabis be administered only as a last resort, which could potentially lead to broader access.

The ministry said emphasis is being placed “on the discretion of the specialist physician (for) the administration of medical cannabis in the physician’s area of expertise, for a large number of indications.”

Itai Rogel, head of business development for medical cannabis producer Bazelet Group in Or Akiva, Israel, told MJBizDaily via email that “until this change in policy, cannabis was given to patients – other than in oncology treatment and palliative care – as a last resort.

“This change definitely allows for a wider discretion on the part of doctors to administer cannabis,” Rogel said.

He said all of Israel’s regulations with respect to medical cannabis are being modified as the regulator and the industry evolve.

Patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder also might have quicker access to cannabis.

Under the previous rules, some patients with moderate to severe PTSD had to be diagnosed for at least three years to be eligible for medical cannabis. That stipulation has been reduced to one year.

Rogel said the latest changes, in parallel with upcoming reforms later this year, mean that, “for all intents and purposes, cannabis treatment is here to stay and will become more and more acceptable as an alternative, additional method of treatment.”

Market growth

The number of medical cannabis patient licenses surged in December to an all-time high of 137,940 patients, according to the latest Ministry of Health data.

Almost 2,800 new patients received medical marijuana licenses that month.

In November, Israel added 3,254 new patient licenses, the biggest monthly increase since 2021.

Previous monthly increases reached:

  • 2,193 in October.
  • 1,142 in September.
  • 1,645 in August.

A recent report by London-based data and market intelligence company Prohibition Partners pegged the 2023 value of Israel’s medical cannabis market at roughly $340 million, making it one of the world’s largest nationally regulated medical marijuana markets.

Prohibition Partners reported that, to support patients during Israel’s ongoing war with Hamas, the Ministry of Health extended patient medical cannabis licenses by three months.

“How the war will affect Israel’s medical cannabis market remains unclear as security is at an all-time high, which may cause barriers in terms of imports, supply chains and levels of investment,” according to the report.

Matt Lamers can be reached at matt.lamers@mjbizdaily.com.