Spark-Up Nation has a pretty good ring to it, don’t you think? Saul Kaye, the CEO of iCAN, certainly does.

For Kaye, whose company is holding its second annual CannTech conference on cannabis in Israel next month, the Jewish state is fertile ground for growing a cannabis economy.

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“Israel is leading the world in research and development, from the medical side to the medical devices to the agro side,” he told The Jerusalem Post in the company’s co-working space in Beit Shemesh.

Indeed, Israel has been a leader in cannabis research.

Compared to the United States, where heavy regulation prohibits many forms of marijuana- related research, Israel’s regulatory framework has been somewhat more relaxed.

The active compounds in cannabis – which has become the preferred term over marijuana within the industry – were discovered in Israel by Prof. Raphael Mechoulam and Dr. Yechiel Gaoni. Add that to the fact that Israel has been a leader in agriculture, medical devices and pharmaceuticals, and the formula for a cannabis economy comes together nicely.

“Every business can touch the future cannabis economy.

If you’re a marketer, if you’re an online guru, if you are a tech person, if you want to develop a drug, a prescription medication, if you want to develop grow-tech, everything can be developed into this new economy,” he continued.

Already, there have been signs of a shift for even looser restrictions in Israel.

In May, Police Insp.-Gen.

Yohanan Danino said, “The time has come for the Israel Police, together with the state, to reexamine their stance on cannabis. I think we must sit and study what’s happening around the world.”

Dr. Alan Shakelford, known for concocting a strain of medical marijuana called “Charlotte’s Web” that helped dramatically reduce the number and intensity of seizures in a five-year-old girl, moved to Israel to join a cannabis research firm because of friendlier regulation.

In August, the insurance group Israel Loss Adjusters Association said that “the economic potential of growing Big Cannabis is greater than that of the [natural] gas [off Israel’s shores].”

In October, Colorado’s Gov.

John Hickenlooper told the Post that his state, which legalized recreational marijuana use in 2012, was looking for Israeli collaboration in the field.

Even large corporations that may have shied away from the industry have begun showing restrained interest, according to Kaye.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch put out a primer on medical cannabis in December, which estimated that there were more than a half-million legal medical marijuana users in the US. “Medical marijuana is a $2.9bn industry and could at least double if more states legalize use,” the report said.

According to a report in Calcalist last month, Philip Morris was preparing a $20 million investment in Syqe Medical, an Israeli start-up that developed a medical cannabis inhaler.

Kaye said members of some large organizations have expressed interest in this year’s CannaTech conference, including players from the NFL and NBA interested in how marijuana might be used for treating sports-related traumas, and a representative from Strauss. The Strauss Group said it was not aware of anyone planning to attend the conference.

ICan, in particular, is interested in the market developing around medical cannabis, and is developing products to deal with the side effects as well as find legal ways of financing companies (US federal law makes such financing difficult).

Kaye said that by 2018, the industry will reach $60 billion globally, “and that’s just cannabis, not the ancillary services, the lighting, the water, the electricity, everything we’re talking about a very large economy.”

The floodgates may open further should a new outline regulating medical cannabis pass in the Knesset.

“Even in Israel, cannabis is registered as an illegal drug, When you get a license in Israel you get a license to use an illegal drug,” Kaye said. The new regulation would fix that, and allow doctors to prescribe cannabis instead of requiring licensing for Israel’s 23,000 medical cannabis patients.

Kaye cited Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg and Likud MK Sharon Haskel as the top advocated of a new approach, though he notes that a surprising number of parliamentarians who have seen the effects of medical cannabis have become advocates as well. Haskel, he said, is set to propose a decriminalization bill that would allow people to grow up to one plant and possess up to 5 grams of marijuana, though its passage is far from assured.

“When we talk about cannabis as a new industry, it’s only new because the regulations are allowing it to be new. It’s always been there, it’s illegal, it’s underground, and now we’re bringing it to the light, so if Israel positions itself well it will continue to be a global leader,” Kaye said.

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