Friday, April 25, 2014

Traveling abroad with medical cannabis

Got your attention, didn't I?
Well, I sure hope so. Because it's a problem, to which there seems to be no single, unequivocally-right answer.

In Israel at least, there has been considerable progress with making medical cannabis legally available to those who need it. It still involves red tape, of course; it takes time; and you have to be lucky in your choice of physician. Moreover, quite often you don't have a choice, as one colleague complained: In her long struggle with devastating migraines, she finally got up the courage to ask her doctor about medical cannabis, having heard that it can help. But Doc insisted that it doesn't help against migraines, and then went on to say that he doesn't recommend medical cannabis because "he doesn't believe in drugs". As if the strong medications Colleague was taking were not drugs, and ones with some nasty side effects at that.

Unlike Colleague above, my pain doctor brightly suggested I try cannabis, totally of her own volition and out of the blue, it seemed to me. Her logic was simple -- to try to gradually wean me off more powerful and harmful drugs (the painkillers I was taking).  And so forms were filled in, time passed, I got my license from the appropriate department of the Ministry of Health, was referred to the appropriate authorized distributor, went for initial instruction, bought the stuff and started experimenting with it. If you want the whole story, drop me a line and I'll write a more detailed post.

But this post is about flying abroad with the darn stuff!

I assumed I'd need to prove I had a license. Luckily, I'm a translator; if push came to shove, I could translate the document into English and have the translation notarized. But I assumed someone before me had gone to the trouble, and there must be an English version of the document somewhere "out there".  Well, I assumed wrongly.

I began asking around. Someone mentioned having a friend who uses medical cannabis, and whose business took her abroad often. The Traveling Friend was consulted. In her experience, nobody in the States cares if you have an Israeli license to use medical cannabis in Israel; trying to take it into the U.S. with you is a no-no.

That was a disappointment. On to the next: another friend-of-a-friend is consulted. He, too, decided it's safer not to take the cannabis with him when going abroad. He tries to keep his business trips as short as possible, and takes with him an extra dose of his other trusted pain medication. Bother!

The staff at Tikun Olam, the distribution center I go to once a month, is very helpful, patient and attentive. I explained to the guy behind the counter that I already have tickets to Prague, and was wondering whether I could take my cannabis with me. The guy said he had no idea, and recommended that I ask at the Czech Embassy. How convenient of my pain doctor, cannabis supplier, and the Czech Embassy to live within such easy walking distance from my grandsons, whom I try to visit at least once a week!
So off I go to the Czech Embassy in Tel Aviv, where a very personable young man named Jan, a "consular referent", looks at me wide-eyed: No, he's never heard of such a request! This might be a good place to point out, that I am not using "grass", or "weed"; in other words, I do not smoke the stuff. Medicinal (and recreational) cannabis are available in a variety of forms, as you can see on the Tikun Olam website. My physician thought that the right form for me is drops: essence of cannabis diluted in olive oil. And I assure you it tastes like hell. I do not advise dressing your salad with it.  I showed Jan the little bottles, [they're tiny!] gave him my license to photocopy and certify, gave him my business card, and he promised to find out and call me.

Which he did. It is okay to bring into the Czech Republic up to 5gr of cannabis. Over that, I had better have my license translated into Czech, and make sure to pass through the red channel at Customs in Prague airport and declare my possession. My bottles contain a maximum of 10 gr each, but since I'll be taking started bottles with me, both together might come to 10gr.
Jan recommended a Hebrew-to-Czech translator and notary -- David Hron. I never got to meet him because he was away in Prague... But his lovely administrative assistant, Diana, took care of everything.

Now in possession of an official-looking document in Czech, a language I don't know a single word in (something I intend to rectify on this trip), I thought I could wipe the Tel Aviv sweat off my brow and proceed to the usual pre-trip dithering: Which tops/trousers to pack, which book to read on the flight, and so on. But I had to stop by at the distribution center to pick up (i.e., buy) my monthly bottles of cannabis oil. So I thought I'd update the guy (must ask his name) who advised me in the first place. He was genuinely interested in the information -- it might help future travelers. He did warn me, however, that I may run into trouble at my port of exit -- Ben Gurion Airport! The thought had never crossed my mind. He said I should phone the airport and find out; I was annoyed that he didn't know what the rules are at Israel's major international airport. I see how many people come to the distribution center. Surely  at least some of them have occasion to travel abroad. What do they do??? Whom do they ask? Who has all the answers?

Bottom line: I'm not calling Ben Gurion Airport. Come Sunday morning, I am taking my precious bottles with me, as well as the Hebrew and the Czech documents and spare Targin in case my cannabis is confiscated. If you don't hear from me soon after that, it may mean I'm spending my vacation in an Israeli or Czech prison. In any case, I promise to tell you what happened. (Sure hope it'll be an anticlimax!)

1 comment:

  1. Czech republic is very lax about canabis.