One Tough Cookie: Meet Israel’s First Medical Cannabis Lobbyist
When Dana Bar-On was 24 years old, her physical ability to move started to slow due to an aggressive hereditary neuromuscular disease – Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT). Dana’s doctors predicted that her motor function would become a memory of the past within five years. What they did not foresee was the power of using only one medicine – medical cannabis – to ultimately support her continued ability to walk on her feet.
About 12 years have passed since her diagnosis and not only has Dana retained her ability to move, she also launched the medical cannabis lobbying movement in Israel. As a medical patient, political activist and founder of The Medical Cannabis Association, Dana is stirring the political pot. She is fighting Israel’s political system as aggressively as CMT was once attempting to surrender her bodily movements.
Part of her personal fight included “a four month war” against the government when the health ministry made an administrative decision, against all medical advice, to cut her dosage of six grams per day by a third. “The first day of taking a lower dosage I lost ability to function. I spent two months demonstrating in a tent which was in plain sight of the Knesset,” Dana said.
It was not until the volume of red sirens arrived at her demonstration frontier — in front of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s house — that paramedics gave her deteriorating physical condition medical attention and politicians suddenly became alarmed.
“I lost 20 kilograms and struggled to breathe…It was only after four months, in a wheelchair, that made enough of an impression on the Knesset for them to feel uncomfortable with the situation. That day I got my full dosage back,” Dana shared.
While Dana has been able to secure access to her necessary dosage of medicine, she continues to fight for the rights of the all patients who seek her Association’s help, and countless others who may require medical cannabis as their form of treatment.
“The need to fight your own government for medicine is a fight for life. It’s a fight for your human, civic and patient rights and for everyone else who is fighting their disease…You’re not only fighting to get better, but you are fighting not to get worse because of the system ,” Dana passionately expressed.
Patients desperate to save their lives surrender control to non-medical professionals to make formative decisions about the duration and quality of their life. “The situation is such that human life and decisions about one’s health in need of medical cannabis is defined by the health ministry as a last result treatment,” Dana expressed.
Rather than patients being treated by medicine, patients that submit paperwork for access to medical cannabis are firstly treated as “criminals.” Policymakers with “unknown medical qualifications” are then tasked to determine a patient’s appropriate medical treatment. In some cases, patients wait one to three months to receive an answer from those “policymakers,” which consequently has been one month too late for patients fighting aggressive diseases.
Witnessing decisions made “behind closed doors, with no protocol or record making of that decision is an illegitimate, unlawful and illegal process…It is also an offense to medical ethics and to professional judgment” Dana stressed.
The current structure of the political system is not “serving the citizens. It is self-preserving.”
In the long run, she “doesn’t care how they regulate the market…but they [politicians] shouldn’t be involved in the confidential, intimate, private process between the patient and physician, regarding one’s medical treatment. That is not the role of the government.”
For a country that birthed the grandfather of medical cannabis research (Raphael Mechoulam), it is grave that the “Israeli government is more concerned with image and what it can export in knowledge and gain from it in patents, rather than its sick patients – the sickest people in the country,” Dana admitted.
Beyond the irony of political and scientific agendas being prioritized over human life, Dana commented on the paradox of religious obligation.
“This is in the basics of Jewish morality. It is written in the sages, from the Talmud, to take care of the sick and the needy. Those in need of medical cannabis are the sickest of the sick in Israel because there is no conventional medicine that can do anything for them…it feels immoral and is very frustrating.”
Although she withdraws her political views, Dana recognizes that there “is no way, nor choice, to win outside of politics or the courts, it’s as simple as that.” Human life is her priority. The fight for life is her mission. She is not sitting back and waiting for change. Dana is literally walking the walk she talks.
“I can call them [politicians] and make them listen. I am known to be loud. Loud in the way that you will notice me. I do use that to make sure that topics should be heard, and that patients who need treatment do get it and people get involved.” It is this characteristic that has her colleagues calling Dana a “positive leach.”
The legality of medical cannabis in Israel is “a pressure path waiting to explode,” according to Dana.
Dana is a mover and a shaker. She is a doer, and above all, Dana is a change-maker. She is taking every step, politically and physically, to pave a legitimate and legal path for medical cannabis.