Israel Shying Away From Being World's 'Pot Dealer'

The country has the climate and know-how to be a major exporter of medical marijuana. It doesn't want to.

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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Growing facility for the Tikun Olam company near the northern city of Safed.
Growing facility for the Tikun Olam company near the northern city of Safed.Credit: Reuters
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

The Czech Health Ministry would like to import medical marijuana from Israel, but the government has not arranged for local growers to export the drug.

Visiting here last month, Czech Health Minister Svatopluk Nemecek dropped by a medical marijuana operation on moshav Ein Irron. The logistic center there is operated by Bazelet — the marijuana division of the Barak Group, a medical supplier that serves five of the eight five of the eight authorized growers of medical marijuana in Israel. Nemecek and his 11-member delegation also visited a marijuana farm.

It was the first time a foreign health minister had come to Israel specifically to study the country’s medical marijuana industry. In February 2013, the Czech Republic legalized the sale of medical marijuana through designated pharmacies, but it has not licensed any local growers. Instead, it imports marijuana from Holland.

According to Shmulik Scharf, Barak’s director of business development, Israel’s warm climate and growing experience could allow it to sell marijuana at an unusually low price, making the country a major player in the global medical marijuana market, alongside Holland and Canada, the world’s leading suppliers.

“In the major export countries, the climate conditions require growing in closed areas that require high outlays,” particularly of electricity, said Scharf. “The price of medical cannabis is now dictated by Holland, and it now stands at 7.8 euro per gram to the end user. Consumption by the average user is 32 to 37 grams a month.”

Israeli growers, Scharf said, “could easily supply the material to another 100,000 consumers, at a third of the price. There is no place that is Israel’s equal in terms of climate conditions and agricultural experience. We are missing an amazing opportunity.”

Israeli expertise in growing marijuana for medical purposes is being sought by other countries as well. The local industry has developed unique methods for controlling plant quality and the level of the active ingredients. It has also developed new strains of plants and industry-specific equipment. Israel’s marijuana growers provide consulting and assistance to their counterparts all over the world.

To grant licenses to export marijuana without violating the United Nation Convention for the Suppression of the Illicit Traffic in Dangerous Drugs, the Medical Cannabis Unit of the Health Ministry or some other body would have to declare itself the national narcotics agency, assuming responsibility for the issue on the government’s behalf. Sources in the medical marijuana industry say that the government does not seem impressed by the industry’s potential. The Health Ministry refused to comment for this article.

An Israeli medical marijuana grower said he has received repeated inquiries from growers in Canada and even received an order for a product that he cannot supply under the current circumstances. “Our hands are tied,” he said.

To overcome the obstacles, he said, he is evaluating the feasibility of setting up a growing facility in Europe. “The medical cannabis market is growing at a fast pace,” he said. “It’s a market of billions that ought to be taken seriously by the Economy Ministry for its export potential.”

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