Israel Could Become Major Exporter of Medical Marijuana

Government panel recommends approving exports which could bring up to $4 billion into state coffers

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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An employee sorts freshly harvested cannabis buds at a medical marijuana plantation in northern Israel, March 21, 2017.
An employee sorts freshly harvested cannabis buds at a medical marijuana plantation in northern Israel March 21, 2017. Credit: NIR ELIAS/REUTERS
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Israel could become an exporter of medical marijuana after a joint committee of the Health and Finance ministries recommended allowing it, based on assessments that exports might bring as much as $4 billion a year in revenues.

Having reversed his initial opposition to allowing its export, on the grounds that it could wind up encouraging local recreational use of the drug, Health Ministry Yaakov Litzman said he would work to make sure that the revenue from would be earmarked for improving Israel's health care system.

The feasibility committee, which submitted its conclusions Sunday to Kahlon and Litzman, recommends allowing marijuana exports under the following restrictions: Exporting would be done by the Health Ministry itself, or by growers directly under government supervision; exports would be approved only to countries that permit the use of medical marijuana and that approve imports specifically from Israel; and exporting will only be by farmers who have a Health Ministry license to grow and export the plant.

All forms of medicinal marijuana would be permissible for export: smoking products, tablets, oils, and so on.

The panel also recommended that a team of Health Ministry, treasury and Agriculture Ministry representatives be formed under the Economy and Industry Ministry’s Foreign Trade Administration to brand and market Israel’s medical marijuana products.

The commission's report was submitted to Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Health Minister Yakov Litzman, whose job is to present the report before the cabinet, explains the Health Ministry. The cabinet will be the one to decide on exports, so the next stage is really up to it.

Israel’s medical marijuana industry is considered a world leader. Because Israel has been providing medical marijuana products to Israeli patients for over a decade, its researchers have accumulated vast clinical experience along with substantial knowledge in developing strains, breeding methods and extraction, as well as maintaining quality control.

“Medical marijuana exports is an industry with significant economic potential for the State of Israel,” Kahlon stated. “Exports would strengthen Israeli agriculture in general and agriculture in the Arava in particular, and will be an opportunity for Israel to exploit its clear relative advantage in developing medical marijuana products.”

The Finance Ministry estimates the potential annual revenue from exports at between $1 billion to $4 billion annually.

According to the Finance Ministry, world production of medical marijuana products totaled 57.3 tons in 2014.

Israel’s eight licensed growers produce around 10 tons of marijuana products annually. The Health Ministry has about 500 applications on file from others seeking licenses.

Growers have been pushing to allow exports for years, saying medical marijuana could be an economic growth engine for Israel. The treasury and Health Ministry were aware of this potential but wanted to be sure that exports would not undermine the supply to Israeli patients. Opposition came mainly from the Public Security Ministry, which feared the ramifications of exporting a material better known as a recreational drug, that remains illegal in many countries.

The attitude toward marijuana must be the same as with any drug, Litzman stated. "We must remember that by law it is forbidden to sell or use it [for recreational purposes]. Nevertheless, the law permits the use of medical marijuana for serious illnesses in certain cases and under special restrictions. As such, we have led a reform that will reduce the bureaucracy for those patients who have been approved for the legal use of medical marijuana so that they should not suffer in vain, and we have also lowered prices."

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