“Medical Cannabis” as a Contested Medicine: Fighting Over Epistemology and Morality

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Few empirical studies have explored how different types of knowledge are associated with diverse objectivities and moral economies. Here, we examine these associations through an empirical investigation of the public policy debate in Israel around medical cannabis (MC), which may be termed a contested medicine because its therapeutic effects, while subjectively felt by users, are not generally recognized by the medical profession. Our findings indicate that beneath the MC debate lie deep-seated issues of epistemology, which are entwined with questions of ethics and morality. Whereas some stakeholder groups viewed evidence-based medicine and mechanical objectivity as the only valid knowledge base, others called for recognition of a particular experience-based knowledge, championing regulatory, administrative, or strong objectivity. Stakeholders’ interpretations of what should be considered as ethical courses of (in)action corresponded to their epistemological views, with most criticizing the regulators for relying on regulatory subjectivity instead of objectivity. Our in-depth mapping of this arena allowed us not only to shed light on the emergence of the new entity called “medical cannabis” but also to reexamine the link between epistemology, ethics, and action and to elucidate how heterogeneous groups view the validity and objectivity of knowledge and the interface between medicine, science, and policy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)488-514
Number of pages27
JournalScience Technology and Human Values
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 May 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We wish to thank a number of individuals for their important contribution to this paper: Dr. Yuval Zolotov for his assistance in the data collection phase; Professor Ilan Talmud, Dr. Ofir Abu, ST&HV editors, and anonymous reviewers for their constructive and insightful comments; and the interviewees who participated in this research and shared their thoughts and experiences with us. The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This research was funded by the Israel National Institute for Health Policy Research (Grant Number #131-15).

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2019.


  • epistemology
  • health policy
  • medical cannabis
  • objectivity
  • policy-making
  • types of knowledge

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Human-Computer Interaction


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