Israel set to allow exports of medical pot, but no. of growers to be cut

The agreement also states that exports will include only medical-use cannabis products – such as capsules and oils – and not raw marijuana.

April 12, 2018 05:22
3 minute read.
Israel set to allow exports of medical pot, but no. of growers to be cut

An employee checks cannabis plants at a medical-marijuana plantation in the North in 2017. (photo credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)

Following a year of ministerial infighting and bureaucratic meddling, the cabinet is set to vote in the next few days on allowing exports of medical marijuana. But the number of companies and farms will be sharply curtailed.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan has lifted his opposition to the plan, which had been a major obstacle to exporting the drug. He reached an agreement with the Finance and Health ministries, he said in a statement released on Wednesday.

The Public Security Ministry had previously demanded NIS 200 million in order to securely hold the drug in customs facilities at Ben-Gurion Airport.

In the agreement, Erdan’s ministry is set to get more funding to monitor exports and prevent the drug from falling into black market use – along with employing 25 police officers full-time to monitor up to 50 marijuana growers.

“I support the use of cannabis for medical purposes and its export to the world, in light of our advanced knowledge in the field,” Erdan said. “However, it is my duty to ensure that the export farms do not cause illegal drugs to be used by Israeli citizens, especially the youth. I am glad that I have reached understandings with the Finance Ministry that will enable the approval of exports.”

The agreement also states that exports will include only medical-use cannabis products – such as capsules and oils – and not raw marijuana, in order to crack down on misuse.

Medical marijuana advocates laid out several problems with the agreement – including that Israel will permit only 50 functioning marijuana farms in the country, on the grounds that allowing too many growers would increase the risk of seepage into the black market.

Some 300 businesses, farmers and manufacturers had previously received temporary permits for growing marijuana, with many of them investing hundreds of thousands of shekels in building secure greenhouses and procuring fertilizers.

“This sounds quite nice as an agreement, but there’s a problem here, said Oren Lebovitch, who heads Israel’s pro-legalization party, Ale Yarok, and oversees the first medical cannabis cooperative in Israel. “What will the 51st company say? If they’ll pick only 50, then all the other 250 companies will go to the courts and will stop the procedure once again.”

Even if the medical marijuana plan is approved next week, exports are likely not to start until 2019, given the need to retrofit customs holding warehouses at Ben-Gurion Airport and prepare law enforcement.

The government first approved medical cannabis reform in 2016, but planned exports were soon halted.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put the brakes yet again on the export plan – reportedly saying that President Donald Trump called him to object to the planned medical cannabis exports.

Lebovitch poured water on that claim, since Trump campaigned in support of medical marijuana.

“One option is that Bibi lied,” Lebovitch said, using the prime minister’s nickname, “and he said it in order to not get the heat.... The other thing, I thought: Bibi is working with Sheldon Adelson. Adelson pays for his campaign, is his patron. And Sheldon – unlike Trump – is really against the legalization of cannabis and is against medical cannabis.

And he’s the person who has donated the most amount of money against medical cannabis.”

It remains unclear why Netanyahu has intervened in the past to oppose medical marijuana exports – only now to seemingly relent.

The Health and Finance ministries project that marijuana exports could bring between NIS 1 billion and NIS 4b. in revenue annually.

Israel has been leading the world in medicinal marijuana research and development.

The country is one of the only places in the world where it is possible to do clinical research on cannabis production.

Last month, Israeli grower Together Pharma announced plans to set up a farm shop overseas, given the regulatory uncertainty over whether exports would eventually be permitted.

On April 20, some 25 Israeli pharmacies will be the first to prescribe medical cannabis products – only oils, in the beginning – to new patients.

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