Israeli Cabinet Set to Legalize Exports of Medical Marijuana

After delays, objections overcome after treasury agrees to pay for increased police supervision

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An Israeli agricultural engineer inspects marijuana plants at the Breath Of Life Pharma greenhouse, Kfar Pines, Israel, March 9, 2016.
An Israeli agricultural engineer inspects marijuana plants at the Breath Of Life Pharma greenhouse, Kfar Pines, Israel, March 9, 2016.Credit: AFP
Hagai Amit
Hagai Amit

Israel’s cabinet is set to legalize exports of medical marijuana on Sunday after Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan’s reservations about criminal use were assuaged by a promise for 25 more police officers to monitor growers.

“I support the use of marijuana for medical purposes and exporting it to the world in light of our [Israel’s] advanced knowledge in the field,” Erdan said in a statement on Wednesday. “But as public security minster I am obligated to make certain that exports from farms aren’t diverted to illicit use by Israeli citizens, especially the young.”

Under the proposed law, 50 growers will be given licenses to export marijuana solely for medical purposes and as a finished product, not in the form of seeds, stems or plants, sources said.

The vote follows a year of policy uncertainty that left Israel’s nascent medical-cannabis industry on tenterhooks as companies signed contracts and their Tel Aviv Stock Exchange share prices soared.

In March, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided at a meeting with officials from relevant ministries to delay any decision after hearing concerns from the Public Security Ministry that marijuana exports could be diverted to the local market for non-medical use.

Netanyahu asked Prof. Avi Simhon, the chairman of the National Economic Council, to study the matter further. It’s not known whether Simhon completed the work, but in the meantime the finance and agriculture ministries prepared a draft decision. That is what will go to the cabinet Sunday, unless Netanyahu unexpectedly opposes the measure.

Growers who have seen the draft say they are concerned about how a “finished product” will be defined under the law and whether a sealed nylon bag will meet the standard.

Despite the concerns, the Israel Farmers Union praised the decision to go ahead with exports. “It’s good news for hundreds of thousands of sick in Israel and the world and a real opportunity for hundreds of growers, the industry that supports them, thousands of families and workers, most of them in [Israel’s] periphery,” said Dubi Amitai, the union’s president.

The world market for medical cannabis was $11.4 billion in 2015 and Bank of America predicted it could reach more than $20 billion by 2020.

Erdan agreed to drop his opposition to exports after the treasury agreed to provide the financial resources for his ministry to properly enforce the law and monitor approved growers.

Some of those resources are contained in the 2019 budget, which the Knesset approved in January. They boost the ministry’s spending by 6.4% to 18.3 billion shekels ($5.2 billion at current exchange rates). Now, it will also get a budget for 25 more police officers.

“In addition, Erdan insisted the exports will be limited to finished products for medical use and not a raw drug. This is in order to ensure that when the product reaches the country to which it is sent it will be used for medical purposes only,” said a spokesman for Erdan.

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