Netanyahu Blocks Exports of Medical Marijuana, Orders New Studies

Hagai Amit
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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
Hagai Amit

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suspended reforms aimed at allowing Israeli marijuana growers to export their product, pending new reviews by the Health Ministry and the chairman of the National Economic Council.

NEC Chairman Avi Simhon was instructed to conduct an economic feasibility study. The Health Ministry is to prepare a separate review.

Netanyahu made the decision Sunday after meeting with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan. Officials from Erdan’s ministry presented new data regarding the “spillover” of medical marijuana grown into the recreational market that led Erdan to restate his opposition to the reform.

The move comes despite long-standing support by the health, finance and agriculture ministries, and a recent agreement between the treasury and the Public Security Ministry under which the latter would drop its object to the reform in exchange for funding for additional positions and an information campaign to improve the odds of a safe rollout of the reform.

Last year a joint committee of the health and finance ministries recommended allowing exports of medical marijuana, based on assessments that they might bring in as much as $4 billion a year in revenue.

Interior Ministry officials did not express any objections during a meeting three weeks ago with members of the joint committee, which focused on the Interior Ministry’s financial needs.

MK Tamar Zandberg, the chairwoman of the Knesset Committee on Drug Abuse, attacked the decision. “Netanyahu’s decision to stop marijuana exports is a destructive one stemming from ignorance and fear. Israel merited being an agricultural power, and, yes, in the marijuana field, too. It’s good for the economy, it’s good for agriculture and it’s good for the sick. We will live to regret the decision to stop such important progress that Israel has already started making, which will erase the competitive advantage that Israel has developed in the marijuana market that is breaking ground now worldwide.” She vowed to convene the committee for an emergency hearing on the issue.

Hagit Weinstock, a lawyer representing marijuana farmers and investors from Israel and abroad, also criticized Netanyahu.

“The Israeli prime minister passed up today on four billion shekels a year that could improve the lives of Israeli citizens, [that could ease] the struggle of the disabled, the burden on the hospitals and the farmers’ distress,” she said. “The ministers are busy scaring the prime minister that the streets of Israel will be covered with marijuana, detached from the reality in which we live where tens of thousands of people smoke and consume marijuana without interruption.”

Weinstock noted that countries all over the world, including Israel, have decriminalized marijuana, and that the fear of some of it ending up on the streets is a fear of the inevitable.

“Farmers and investors from Israel and abroad who have invested millions based on the Israeli government’s commitment find themselves in a situation in which their investment is going down the drain,” Weinstock added, vowing to petition the High Court of Justice against the decision.