‘Medical cannabis could be worth more to Israel than natural gas’

Like the gas, licensing and taxing locally grown marijuana could be a boon for the government coffers.

August 16, 2015 22:39
2 minute read.

A worker carries sacks of newly harvested cannabis plants at a plantation near Nazareth. (photo credit: REUTERS)

While Israel is busy sorting out regulation for the natural gas reserves off its shores, a development considered a boon for Israel’s economy, could it be missing an even bigger opportunity in the field of medical cannabis? That was the general consensus at a Thursday conference on how Israel’s farmers could benefit from the growing global market for medical cannabis, hosted by Israel Loss Adjusters Association.

“The US cannabis market stands at $35 billion a year.

Are we able to give up revenues from this market?” asked Doron Havkin, the ILAA’s chairman.

Havkin argued that the government could help the stumbling agricultural sector in the Arava by declaring it a closed zone for growing export-oriented medical cannabis. The nearly 2,500 hectares (6,000) acres of land, he said, were waiting for such a development.

If Israel grew pot instead of peppers, said Dr. Tamir Gadot, CEO of pro-medical cannabis agricultural association Breath of Life, the economy would be the biggest beneficiary.

“The economic potential of growing Big Cannabis is greater than that of the gas,” he said, arguing that the government should recognize that medical cannabis is “a legitimate pharmaceutical industry.”

Over time, Gadot’s assertion could prove accurate. Ernst and Young estimated the economic worth of Israel’s gas reserves at $52b.

In 2012, Israel’s agricultural exports amounted to $2.4b., but flowers and oranges are far cheaper than medication.

Taking Havkin’s estimate of the US market and estimates of Europe’s potential market ranging from €10b.-€60b. a year, Israel would need to nab just a fraction of the growing market for the value of medical cannabis to eventually outweigh that of natural gas, though the process could take decades.

Like the gas, licensing and taxing locally grown marijuana could be a boon for the government coffers. Colorado, which decriminalized and begun taxing recreational marijuana, collected over $102m. in related revenues in the 2014-2015 fiscal year.

“Cannabis is used as a medicine, and we should look at it as an agricultural product in every way and give it an export license,” said Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg, who chairs the Knesset Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse.

The proposal also found an unlikely advocate in far-right former Likud MK Moshe Feiglin, who said his wife, who suffers from Parkinson’s, has found relief from the drug.

“We have to make a break from some deeply held beliefs,” he said.

Amos Regev, an ILAA’s appraiser, warned that if Israel did not take action soon, it would missing the boat on medical cannabis.

“Cannabis is a path to a better future. Agriculture will blossom, crime will subside, and the sick will enjoy a better quality of life,” he said.

“If we don’t do this, somebody else will do it instead of us.”

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