Patients who use medical marijuana in Israel will soon pay a monthly service charge of about $100 to cover costs, reports Josiah Daniel Ryan of The Jerusalem Post.
The charge is scheduled to begin in a few weeks, according to a source inside Tikkun Olam, the nonprofit organization that produces Israel’s medical marijuana. It will be about NIS 360 monthly, roughly equivalent to $97 American. (At current exchange rates, a shekel is worth about 27 cents American).
In addition, starting Sunday, patients are required to pay a one-time administrative fee of NIS 116 (about $31).
Until Sunday, patients had received free marijuana. But following a wave of publicity caused by media reports, Tikkun Olam has been deluged, with a nearly 500 percent increase in requests for medical cannabis, according to an anonymous source within the organization.
Neither the Israeli government nor insurance companies currently fund medical marijuana production. Donations received by Tikkun Olam have become inadequate for keeping up with the dramatic rise in demand, according to the source.
A Israeli Health Ministry study estimates there are nearly 40,000 Israelis who would benefit from using marijuana. Tikkun Olam expects the demand — and the price — of the herb to continue rising in the coming months.
There are also concerns that if tension rises on Israel’s northern border, where Tikkun Olam’s secret growing facilities are located, production could be disrupted, causing prices to rise even further. Hezbollah is known to be stockpiling an arsenal of missiles near Israel’s northern border, according to the Post.
According to a Tikkun Olam spokesman, the organization is based on compassion and believes that patients shouldn’t have to pay for medical marijuana. However, spokesman Shai Meir said, until the Knesset’s Labor and Health Committee comes up with a plan on how to subsidize medical marijuana, patients will continue to have to pay.
The Labor and Health Committee is currently working on just such a plan, expected to be unveiled in March.
There could be legal problems if patients are charged for marijuana, according to Dr. Yehuda Baruch, director of the medical cannabis program within the Health Ministry.
Dr. Baruch told the Post that it is the government’s opinion that Tikkun Olam’s implementation of the monthly fee would violate the law, which forbids the sale of marijuana in Israel.
“We recognize that it is expensive to produce marijuana, and there will be a discussion in the Health and Labor Committee to see if they will be allowed to sell it,” Baruch said. “But until we decide, it is our position that it is illegal for them to charge a monthly fee. If they implement the fee without permission, we will pursue them in court.”
“We don’t have a problem with the NIS 116 fee,” Dr. Baruch said. “But as we understand it, the NIS 360 would cover much of the production cost. We think they are going through a backdoor avenue to sell it. We know that the costs of transportation and administration are far less.”
Yael, a medical marijuana patient who is undergoing chemotherapy, said she had been informed of the new charge when she picked up her weekly 15 grams of marijuana last week.
The patient said she’d been forced to reconsider the use of marijuana as medicine.
“I can’t work because of the treatment I am undergoing,” Yael said. “A lot of people who take marijuana as medicine are in my position, and it’s a lot of money for someone who doesn’t have an income. Even though it works so well, I am thinking about getting off of it bevcause of the high price.”
Yael said she understood the decision to charge for marijuana, but said she believed that a treatment so effective was only being excluded from government and insurance coverage because of lingering prejudice against cannabis as a drug instead of medicine.
Member of Knesset Ilan Gilon agreed. “I recognize that Tikkun Olam has the right to charge money to provide the cannabis to patients,” Gilon’s spokeswoman told the Post on Monday. “However, the payment should not come from the patient himself, but from the government and from the insurance companies. They should recognize the medicine as part of the treatment.”
In the meantime, Tikkun Olam will also set up a committee considering the economic situation of patients who don’t have enough money to purchase marijuana, according to Meir.