Israel Likely to Allow Medical Cannabis Exports by Year's End, Lawmaker Says

Finance and health ministries estimate exports could bring in about $1b a year, but some lawmakers fear more cultivation could push more drugs onto the streets

Employee inspects cannabis plants in a greenhouse in Kfar Pines, Israel, September 21, 2016.
Rina Castelnuovo/Bloomberg

Israel will likely allow exports of medical cannabis by the end of the year, Likud MK Yoav Kish announced on Thursday. The move that would boost state coffers and slow the growing number of Israeli firms establishing farms abroad.

Benefiting from a favorable climate and expertise in medical and agricultural technologies, local companies are among the world’s biggest producers of medical cannabis.

The finance and health ministries estimate exports could bring in about $1 billion a year, but Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and some lawmakers are opposed to Israeli-grown cannabis going abroad, fearing more cultivation could push more drugs onto the streets at home.

The government had sought to approve the exports, but efforts stalled last April after Erdan and other ministers raised objections and sought more money for monitoring growers of the substance.

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Kish, chairman of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, has since submitted a bill to allow exports that imposed tougher regulations on exporters and threatened jail terms and hefty fines for violations. His proposal passed its first of three votes in the plenum last week, and is back with Kish’s committee for revisions.

“I aim to finish the legislation by the end of the year,” says Kish, who estimates that the law could boost tax income by 1 billion shekels ($268 million) a year. “We believe it’s medicine and it’s important ... It’s a big potential for Israeli farmers and the economy.”

There are currently eight local cultivating companies, a number of whom have resorted to opening farms abroad to get into the international market. The government says there have been many requests from business owners awaiting authorization.

Cannbit, a newcomer that has established a farm in southern Israel – and signed a deal this week with local medical cannabis supplier Tikun Olam – said it was looking into opening a farm in Portugal if the new regulations do not go through.

“If there will be exports from Israel there will be less tendency for investments in other places,” said CEO Yaron Razon.

Together, another Israeli cannabis grower, has already set up farms in Europe after signing a $300-million contract to supply cannabis products to a Canadian company.

“Exporting from Israel can have a big impact on the industry and economy,” said Alex Rabinovitch, controlling shareholder of InterCure, which recently bought medical cannabis firm Canndoc.