Recreational: Decriminalized (legalization may be pending)
Cannabis is legal for medical use in Israel and the country has implemented decriminalization policies for small-scale possession charges. And while the promise of legal recreational cannabis in the Promised Land has been deferred for now, legalization appears to be a matter of time.
In July, 2021, Israeli lawmakers rejected a bill that would have decriminalized recreational marijuana use. The bill had already been approved by the government’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation, and a year earlier, two other bills to regulate use and sales passed preliminary readings in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
The two bills would have legalized the sale and purchase of cannabis for personal use for people over the age of 21 in authorized retail stores. In addition, it would have decriminalized possession of up to 50 grams of cannabis and legalized possession of up to 15 grams.
Also included in the draft legislation was the assertion that 27% of the overall adult population in Israel consumes cannabis and that the legislation is meant to provide legal and normative regulation as has been done in many other countries around the world.
The cause of legalization in Israel also received an apparent boost back in February, 2020, when then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted (at 4:20pm) that he had examined the matter and decided to support the expungement of the records for tens of thousands of Israelis charged with minor cannabis possession charges. To some extent, cannabis has already been decriminalized for personal use in Israel since 2019, when a law went into effect that reduced the penalties for small-scale possession to a simple fine instead of criminal charges.
The Israeli government formally legalized medical marijuana in 1999, and by 2020 the number of registered patients reached a record high of over 70,000. Also in 2020, Israel surpassed Germany as the world’s largest importer of medical cannabis flower, according to data from Israel’s online Cannabis Magazine. At the same time, medical cannabis patients have for years complained of supply problems, and the country’s medical cannabis reforms have been portrayed as a failure.
In the cannabis industry and the scientific community, Israel has a well-earned reputation as a global leader in cannabis research. Most notably, scientist Raphael Mechoualm of Hebrew University of Jeruslaem, is credited with isolating tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), as well the cannabinoid 2-AG and anandamide.
How to get medical marijuana in Israel
Medical cannabis permits in Israel are issued by the Medical Cannabis Unit of the Ministry of Health. To apply for a permit, the Health Ministry states that a prospective patient must submit a specialist’s recommendation for a permit, which is received by the Medical Cannabis Unit. This unit then makes a decision about whether or not to issue the permit.
The application must be submitted by the physician, who specializes in the ailment that the patient is looking to treat with cannabis.
Caption: By 2020 the number of registered medical marijuana patients in Israel reached a record high of over 70,000 (Shutterstock)
Alt text: Medical cannabis on a scale
The specialist must submit an online application form according to the official guidelines. The patient will receive a text messaging confirming receipt of the application, which is reviewed by the senior doctor in the Medical Cannabis Unit, who the ministry states “is also a certified “director” under the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance.”
A decision is made by the director, and the patient has the ability to appeal a rejection to the appeal committee.
Qualifying conditions for medical marijuana
The medical cannabis program in Israel is not as lenient as those in many other countries, and patients typically are required to attempt other medical treatments before cannabis is approved.
The following conditions are approved for medical cannabis in Israel:
Patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment, immuno-therapy or radiology Crohn’s DiseaseUlcerative colitisAIDS (HIV)Multiple SclerosisParkinson’s DiseaseEpilepsyTourette’s SyndromePatients being treated in a pain clinic (such as Fibromyalgia) and people suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may be eligible to receive a license to use cannabis.
The ministry may make exceptions in some circumstances or conditions that are not on this list.
What Israeli law permits for medical patients
According to the Israeli Ministry of Health, the preliminary monthly prescription is for up to 20 grams of flower per month, in which “the concentration of active ingredients is the lowest.”
If the presiding physician believes the patient needs more cannabis, they can submit a request to increase the prescription to 30 grams per month. The patient can also submit a request to receive up to 100 grams per month.
Patients can also receive THC rich, high CBD/low THC, and CBD oil as part of their prescription.
Costs of medical marijuana in Israel
Medical marijuana for licensed patients in Israel is subsidized and much cheaper than on the illicit market. The cannabis is sold out of pharmacies and dispensaries or by delivery. The prices can range from about 9 shekels ($2.80) per gram to about 40 shekels per gram ($12.50). Meanwhile, on the street, cannabis costs anywhere from around $10 to more than $30 per gram depending on the quality and the quantity ordered.
The Israeli website Cannabiz posted a list of the “strongest medical cannabis strains in Israel for 2021,” in which the monthly prices for a variety of strains known to North American consumers are listed. The Israeli website cannapedia also posted in 2021 a lengthy price list for legal medical cannabis flower and oil in Israel.
Can foreigners access medical marijuana?
Foreigners cannot access Israel’s medical marijuana program, and there is no reciprocity that would allow them to bring their cannabis medicine with them when visiting.
For those left out of the medical marijuana program, Israel also has a very vibrant underground cannabis economy that operates on a variety of smartphone apps, which make buying weed “as easy as ordering a pizza,” with prices that at times come close to competing with those paid by medical cannabis patients.