In a move they hope will revolutionize the medical-cannabis sector, 37 farmers received preliminary permits from the Health Ministry to construct facilities for the plant’s cultivation.Assuming they go on to receive further necessary permits, the farmers will join an existing group of just eight medical-cannabis growers in the country, putting an end to years of legal struggles.As the medical-cannabis sector opens up to include more farmers, the market will be able to better satisfy the needs of Israeli consumers and of export outlets, generating billions of shekels each year, according to Hagit Weinstock, the attorney for the farmers.
“There is no doubt that this is truly good news for farmers and for citizens in need of medical-cannabis treatment,” she said on Wednesday.The granting of preliminary approvals on Tuesday to build farms comes just a week and a half after the cabinet authorized a plan to decriminalize marijuana use by first-time offenders. While recreational use of marijuana remains illegal, medical cannabis has been legal in Israel since the 1990s. However, because cannabis is defined as a “dangerous drug,” working with it requires a special license through the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance, the ministry said.The process toward opening up the country’s medical-cannabis market dates back nearly six years, beginning with an August 2011 resolution that established the Medical Cannabis Unit within the ministry.By June 2016, the government had passed a resolution regulating various aspects of the sector, including a policy for expanding the number of approved medical-cannabis growers.Yet after farmers still had not received their cultivation permits, Weinstock submitted a petition to the Jerusalem District Court in January 2017 against a variety of government bodies and the Israel Police, demanding that the latter conduct the necessary security checks on farmers interested in growing medical cannabis.Weinstock expressed her hopes that from this point on, there would be no need to refile petitions, after learning that the Israel Police was performing the necessary checks on the farmers in accordance with previous judgments.“On one hand, I am happy and proud that we reached this day on which the government and the Israel Police are honoring the judgment we received and confirmed that dozens of our clients can establish farms for the production of cannabis for medical purposes,” she said. “But on the other hand, I am troubled that it required long legal battles to force the government to open the market for the growth and production of medical cannabis and then to compel the Israel Police to act in accordance with the government decision.”In response to Weinstock’s announcement on Wednesday, a ministry statement explained that the Israel Police ceased working with the ministry in September due to a lack of required resources.But following the court petition, the police began performing the necessary checks on the specific farmers involved in that court case. If the farmers met the required security conditions, the Medical Cannabis Unit then issued them unique business codes and preliminary permits, the statement said.“This is a first approval to begin the construction of the farms, and not to have [possession of] the drug (cannabis),” the statement said.Only if and when the farmers construct their facilities and meet all the required agricultural and security rules will they be able to apply for permits to conduct actual cannabis cultivation, according to the ministry.“The approval is not a license to work in the field of cannabis but is a preliminary approval – an approval for the planning and construction of the farm and preparation for quality checks, without authorization for [having possession of] the drug,” the ministry said.
Medical marijuana in Israel , use of medical cannabis in Israel (credit: REUTERS)