Medical cannabis nation

“We have been in the field of medical cannabis for over five years, which may not sound like a lot, but in this relatively new field, it is considered a long time,” Alfiah said.

REUT ALFIAH, head of the Medical Cannabis Department at ZAG/Sullivan Law Firm. (photo credit: RAMI ZENGER)
REUT ALFIAH, head of the Medical Cannabis Department at ZAG/Sullivan Law Firm.
(photo credit: RAMI ZENGER)
Medical cannabis is a fast-growing field with significant potential and the train has already left the station. “You can’t stop it,” Reut Alfiah, head of the Medical Cannabis Department at ZAG/Sullivan Law Firm told The Jerusalem Post Magazine.
Alfiah recently sat down with the Post to discuss the growth of the cannabis industry and Israel’s distinct advantage in this emerging market.
ZAG/Sullivan is a unique international law firm with offices in Tel Aviv, Boston, New York, Washington, London and in China. The firm is a powerhouse when it comes to advising hi-tech and life science startups doing business in Israel and the US.
“We have been in the field of medical cannabis for over five years, which may not sound like a lot, but in this relatively new field, it is considered a long time,” she said.
In fact, the firm has a department dedicated exclusively to medical cannabis, which keeps up with the latest regulation, both in Israel and in the US, and provides clients added value – matching investors with companies in the field.
This has positioned the firm as one of the leading, if not the leading, firms in Israel in the field of medical cannabis – a relatively new and developing industry, but one with a long and intricate history.
According to Alfiah, cannabis used to be legal around the world in the 1920s; however, mainly due to politics, it was made illegal and named a “dangerous narcotic.” In fact, there is an international charter that many countries signed on to, agreeing they would not develop the plant.
Israel, however, was not part of this charter and instead opted to conduct research into cannabis. Alfiah explained that as such, since the 1960s, research in Israel has been conducted on the cannabis plant itself.
“There was a lot of research done in this field, and so the number of clinical trials in cannabis and the tech developments coming out of Israel is tremendous,” she said, adding that “because Israel allowed medical treatment of cannabis, there are decades’ worth of databases and treatments of patients that have provided a lot of significant information.”
Now, Alfiah explained, all this research was pieced together into what is known as the Green Book – a guide that provides the information gathered from tens of thousands of patients on medical cannabis treatments.
THIS IS crucial data when it comes to the cannabis industry; for example, knowing whether to use the Indica or the Sativa plant as well as the exact mix of THC and CBD – the two main cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant – to provide the correct dosage for a wide array of treatments and uses.
“What is amazing to see is that there is a major industry of startups that have developed around this field,” she said. “Israel has for years been a leader in agriculture and a large part of cannabis is in growing the plants.”
As such, Alfiah said she sees a bright future for the cannabis industry: “It will only continue to develop, because all analyses talk about significant projected growth in this field, and specifically in the medical and cosmetic fields. This isn’t a bubble because there is a real industry with actual products that improve lives, and on the contrary, we are seeing many big pharmaceutical companies trying to get into this field now.”
She added that in the future, cannabis will most likely become a commodity – “this is the direction the world is headed.
“What Israel brings to the global table is the research and development, and at the end of the day the successful companies will be those that deal in R&D – this is Israel’s main advantage,” she said. “When investors come to Israel, they come to find the research and development.”
She added that all the new emerging technology with regards to cannabis in agriculture and ergonomics – as well as in the fields of women’s health, medicines for chronic illnesses, cancer research as well as autism research – is all possible due to the data available in Israel.
Yet despite the great strides, there are still certain setbacks for Israeli companies operating in this field, mainly due to the strict regulations facing cannabis in other countries, primarily the United States.
“In the US, cannabis is not allowed at a federal level,” she said. “At the state level, there are states that have allowed it and so the main restriction business-wise, because NASDAQ follows federal law, is that US companies engaged in medical cannabis cannot trade on NASDAQ. However, Israeli companies that don’t have activities in the US are able to trade, but then they lose the US market on a state level.”
So Israeli companies are left with a difficult choice: trade on NASDAQ or enter the lucrative US market.
“We see companies making this tough choice – some choosing to trade on NASDAQ opting to go into the European market and others vice versa – and so we also provide an envelope and advise about US laws and regulations,” she said.
Regardless of the challenges, Alfiah is certain of one thing – that the medical cannabis industry will only continue to grow, and that Israel will play a central role in its development.
“There is a sense of Zionist mission in medical cannabis: to invest in agriculture and the development of the land and on the other side invest in future medical treatments provides an incredible link between the past since we arrived in Israel as pioneers farming the land and the future of tech and medicine in the Start-Up Nation,” Alfiah said.
This article was written in cooperation with ZAG/Sullivan Law Firm.