Finance Minister Lambastes Delay in Approving Medical Marijuana Exports

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Medical marijuana farm in Israel
Medical marijuana farm in IsraelCredit: AFP

Canada, Uruguay, the Netherlands and Australia all allow medical-cannabis exports tapping an estimated $55 billion global market, but in Israel approval has been held up despite near unanimous support for the idea in the government and medical-marijuana entrepreneurs waiting to do business.

The man responsible for the delay is Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, though he has never publicly declared this. In any case, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has had enough with the foot-dragging; on Monday he sent a letter to Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman demanding that the cabinet meet immediately to approve exports and advance legislation to that end.

“For more than six months, the Public Security Ministry has been preventing the plan from being put on the cabinet’s agenda, thereby harming Israel’s economy, farmers and local industry,” Kahlon wrote. “During these months a number of countries around the world, including Australia and Canada, began to export medical cannabis.”

When the cabinet last discussed the issue in April, legalization of medical-marijuana exports had the backing of the finance, health and agriculture ministries, as well as the Prime Minister’s Office. Even officials in Erdan’s Public Security Ministry supported the measure after Kahlon agreed to increase the police budget to ensure enforcement of cannabis laws.

The Public Security Ministry demanded that the number of authorized exporters be limited, but the Justice Ministry opposed that. Treasury officials have tried to meet with Erdan to hear his objections, but he has declined.

Since then, Kahlon said in his letter, the Public Security Ministry has even added new conditions, including legislation that would give the police more enforcement authority over marijuana growers.

“The [ministry’s] demands would increase uncertainty in the market, in particular with growers,” Kahlon said. “I fear that we are being made to stop the [legislative] process for as long as possible …. It’s impossible to hold the economy, farmers and entrepreneurs hostage.”

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Public Security Minister Gilad ErdanCredit: Michal Patael

The Public Security Ministry said Kahlon was being misled by his staff.

“As we understand it, the only condition now hindering government approval is the justified demand by the police to receive authority to enter drug farms and enforce laws to ensure that the large quantity of drugs being grown don’t leak out and flood Israel with drugs,” the ministry said.

“It’s puzzling that the Finance Ministry is torpedoing such a clear need by the police to protect the public.”

More than two years ago, the Health Ministry overhauled the Israeli medical-marijuana industry, which included the issuing of an unlimited number of licenses to grow cannabis. Over 200 entrepreneurs have received licenses.

However, the local market isn’t anywhere near large enough to support more than a handful of growers. Nearly all of them have been waiting for exports to be approved.

Kahlon said medical-cannabis-based products had export potential of up to 4 billion shekels ($1.1 billion), along with the creation high-productivity jobs for farmers, and entrepreneurs in medical and agricultural research.

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