By Adam Abrams/JNS.org
Israel stands to generate large profits from its burgeoning medical cannabis industry after a joint committee of the country’s Health and Finance ministries Aug. 13 approved a new measure allowing for international exports of the plant.
According to some reports, the state could earn up to $4 billion annually in revenue from medical cannabis exportation, an industry that Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said has “significant economic potential for the state of Israel and will strengthen Israeli agriculture.”
Saul Kaye, CEO of the iCAN: Israel-Cannabis organization, whose stated mission is “to identify, invest, accelerate and showcase cannabis innovation for the global cannabis economy,” said the Israeli government’s move “will significantly increase investment as well as entrepreneurship” in the country’s cannabis technology sector.
“Numerous jobs will be created throughout the country, in areas such as ag-tech, pharma, packaging and transportation, as well as all the support services required like legal and accounting,” Kaye said. “The economic impact will prove to be a tremendous benefit to Israel and produce many winners.”
Israeli Health Minister Yaakov Litzman initially opposed medical cannabis exports, due to concern that they may encourage recreational use of marijuana within the Jewish state.
“Remember that the law prohibits the use and trade of cannabis, with the exception of medical cannabis for treating serious diseases in special cases and under special restrictions,” he said.
Following the ministerial measure’s approval, Litzman vowed to work to ensure that a portion of the revenue from medical cannabis exports will be applied to improving Israel’s healthcare system.
The joint committee that recommended approving the exports also recommended certain restrictions, including limiting the privilege to the Israeli Health Ministry and licensed growers under direct government supervision.
Israeli medical cannabis would only be exported to countries where the plant is approved for medicinal use, and which already have trade relations with Israel. The new measure allows for all forms of medical cannabis to be exported, including raw buds for smoking, oils, tablets and edibles.
Prior to the measure’s approval, several countries had already expressed strong interest in importing Israeli medical cannabis and applied for permission to do so, including Australia, Germany, Denmark, the Czech Republic and Cyprus.
“In view of the general trend in the industry, it is expected that additional countries will potentially be interested in Israeli exports,” the joint committee stated.
Ma’ayan Weisberg, head of foreign relations at Tikun Olam Ltd., Israel’s first and largest supplier of medical cannabis, said the organization “has received hundreds of requests throughout the years to export our products internationally.”
“We thank the recommendations of the government for allowing exports in the near future with no more difficulties,” she said.
Weisberg noted that more than 90 percent of Tikun Olam’s medical patients “have benefited” from the cannabis strains and products provided by the company.
“[Patients] have reported an improvement in their health and daily functionality, a decrease in need for medication and an increase in overall wellbeing,” she said.
The medical cannabis supplier had already established various international “collaborations” in Canada, the U.S., Australia “and in other places soon to come,” Weisberg said.
“There is no logical or legal reason not to authorize exports for the benefit of the Israeli economy and people,” she asserted.
Tikun Olam is one of eight licensed medical cannabis growers in Israel, which combine to produce some 10 tons of the plant annually. More than 500 additional growers have applied to produce medical cannabis for the purpose of international exportation.
In February, an Israeli government committee took the first steps toward allowing the export of medical cannabis from Israel, and in March, the Knesset legislature passed a new law essentially decriminalizing recreational marijuana use nationwide.
In recent years, Israel has become a hub for the study and distribution of medical cannabis. Hebrew University’s Prof. Raphael Mechoulam initially discovered THC, the primary psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant, in the 1970s. Since then, Israeli hospitals have demonstrated a willingness to perform clinical trials on the effectiveness of cannabis in relieving the symptoms of tens of thousands of patients suffering from chronic or terminal conditions.
“Israel’s medical cannabis program is the oldest and most advanced in the world,” said iCAN’s Kaye. “Our regulatory environment allows for clinical trials to test efficacy on a variety of illnesses and our government has even provided grants for several cannabis companies. This is in stark contrast to the United States, where the ability to research the plant is nearly impossible because of Cannabis’s status as a Schedule I substance.”