As proposed legislation to decriminalize recreational marijuana use awaits approval from the attorney-general, the Agriculture Ministry recently announced it is classifying medical-grade-cannabis growing as an official farming sector.The move thereby entitles between 15 and 20 marijuana farmers to government aid, grants, water quotas and training in crop growing.The ministry noted that the most recent branch to be classified as a farming sector was a decade ago, when the horse sector was recognized.Calculations by the ministry show that it costs NIS 1.5 million to set up a 0.1 hectare (a quarter of an acre) cannabis farm, and costs 0.85% of this amount to double the farm’s size to 0.2 hectares, and 0.75% of the amount to increase it to 0.3 hectares.If the cannabis is sold for NIS 10 per gram, cannabis growing is profitable only when a farmer has at least 0.4 hectares, with the return on such a farm being NIS 380,000 per each tenth of a hectare.According to projections by the ministry’s experts, the medical cannabis market for Israeli exports will amount to roughly NIS 1 billion-NIS 4b. a year.While noting that Israelis’ attitudes about smoking marijuana have evolved along with Western nations, the ministry said “the use of cannabis for medical purposes is relatively new in Israel and worldwide, and its status is still controversial. “Dealing and using cannabis is still illegal in most of the world’s countries, but it appears that the use of cannabis for medical purposes is gaining popularity in many countries, and an increasing number of studies are confirming the positive effects of cannabis, while showing its risks and damage,” it added.Recognizing the potential growth of the marijuana farming sector, the ministry recently allocated NIS 8m. for 13 biochemical studies for improving medical-cannabis growing.“The studies are enabling researchers to conduct basic and applied research, and to develop tools and research infrastructure for the next generation of medical cannabis products,” the ministry said.Earlier this month, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan initiated legislation to decriminalize, but not legalize, recreational cannabis use.Upon announcing the policy shift in January, which would still include fines but not an initial criminal record for possession of less than 15 grams, Erdan said adult offenders would be afforded “four strikes” before criminal proceedings are initiated.While noting that the “legitimacy of using marijuana has only grown among the public,” Erdan said he nonetheless takes the issue very seriously, and would not allow its use to be inconsequential.“We are promoting this policy as an important step forward, which will enable us to shift the emphasis from criminal enforcement to measures of education and public awareness,” he said of the proposal.While many MKs across political lines have overwhelmingly supported the policy as a first step in Westernizing Israeli law and destigmatizing marijuana use, MK Oren Hazan (Likud) said he fears it will lead to an increase of drug dealers. “A fine is not like a criminal record, which deters those who wish to take advantage of the situation to earn easy money,” he said. “It is a dangerous policy for our young generation and for the entire State of Israel.”However, iCAN: Israel-Cannabis, an NGO that runs the annual CannaTech Conference promoting the legalization of cannabis, lauded the policy shift as an opportunity for significant economic growth.Globes contributed to this report.