JERUSALEM – Israelis that rely on medical cannabis are experiencing a drought of the herb which has had dire consequences for those who use it to keep their levels of pain under control.
In recent months many of the tens of thousands of patients who use cannabis have not been able to access the medication which has negatively affected their quality of life and the treatment of their diseases.
“Living with cannabis in order to feel better is a difficult process,” 58-year-old Mijal Applebaum, who has been suffering from multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease, for nearly two decades, told EFE.
As the illness took hold Applebaum, an interior designer, was forced to stop working.
She now relies on a wheelchair to get around and cannabis is like a tonic which helps her sleep and get through the day without having to withstand excruciating levels of pain.
However, in recent months she has not been able to get hold of the dose she would usually take and the type of marihuana she would normally consume is also unavailable.
“For me, cannabis is medicine. What am I meant to do if I can’t obtain the minimum amount that I need?” she wondered, adding that she has had to resort to the black market in order to get the herb, albeit at a higher price.
“I found a trusted contact who sells it at a good price but other people are being conned,” she warned.
Israel approved the medical use of cannabis in 1999. Over time access to it has improved and now some 40,000 people have got permission from the Ministry of Health to consume it.
But a few months ago the main provider, Tikun Olam, closed temporarily in order to adapt its production to the ministry’s new and higher standards and due to its main plantation being transferred to another location.
A new law that forces people to purchase the product in pharmacies and not directly from providers has also contributed to the sudden cannabis drought.
“There is a very serious scarcity,” warned David Pappo, the owner of a pharmacy in the central city of Ramla.
Under the new system, only two companies are distributing the drug and, following the closure of Tikun Olam, they are not able to meet demand.
“It is normal for patients to be angry. They are ill,” Pappo added.
The pharmacist was hopeful that the situation would soon be resolved, thanks to a new harvest and the emergence of new providers set to hit the market.
On the Tel Aviv stock market, companies involved in cannabis production and distribution have secured investments worth millions and there are many emerging entrepreneurs that are growing and commercializing weed. It is a booming sector.
The cannabis market has shed any taboo it once had, with former prime minister Ehud Barak and former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo both choosing to invest in cannabis startups.
“Israel has the oldest program of medicinal cannabis in the world, with clinical evidence of thousands of patients and a focus on technology and research and development,” Saul Kaye, director of cannabis startup, iCAN, told EFE.
This year the business prospects for the sector received a boost when new legislation opened the market to international exports which in turn could increase foreign investment in Israel.
“Over the last two years, producers have been getting ready to export medical cannabis,” Kaye added.
Amid the cannabis market’s prosperity, Harry Rubenstein, who suffers from rheumatoid spondylitis is feeling low and unhopeful.
Rubenstein received his medical cannabis one week late and was forced to revert to another medication for pain relief.
“For my pain, I needed to go back to taking opioids which is very detrimental and does not allow me to work, I can’t properly take care of my kids when I’m taking that.”
Efe contacted the Health Ministry but is still waiting for a reply.
“It’s criminal what’s happening now,” Rubenstein said.