While billions of people around the world celebrated Christmas, 45 miles away from Bethlehem, Israel’s Parliament approved the export of the nation’s medical cannabis products abroad.
Like their peers in Thailand who legalized medical marijuana on the same day, the Israelis passed the law unanimously. It is now on its way to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet for approval. The bill is expected to have a major impact on the state coffers: Israel’s finance and health ministries have estimated the revenue from the export plan could net the country $265 million a year.
What’s On the Horizon
Israel had long been at the cutting edge of cannabis research. Most prominently, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam discovered CBD in Israel in 1963, before he went on to discover THC in 1964. But the country’s new wave of progress — especially on the research front — comes with a lot of legal hoops to jump through and severe consequences for those who fail to hit the mark.
Businesses who wish to export cannabis for medicinal purposes will need a license from the Ministry of Health in addition to the license already required for selling cannabis to begin with, which itself is contingent on a positive recommendation from the Israel police. If found in violation of these rules, businesses could reportedly be subject to severe fines or jail time.
This kind of enforcement was required to get the ball rolling on the project after previous efforts to legalize cannabis exports failed.
Second Time’s The Charm?
The law originally had its first chance to pass early in the year. But in April, Gilad Erdan, a big-time Israeli politico, explained the situation from his perspective. Make no mistake about it, Erdan’s opinions carry a lot of weight: He’s the Minister of Strategic Affairs, the Minister of Information, and most importantly, Minister of Public Security.
“I support the use of marijuana for medical purposes and exporting it to the world in light of [Israel’s] advanced knowledge in the field,” Erdan said in a statement. “But as public security minister, I am obligated to make certain that exports from farms aren’t diverted to illicit use by Israeli citizens, especially the young.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu trusts Erdan a lot. Prior to Erdan’s public comments in April, Netanyahu had already made up his mind and met with officials from relevant ministries to delay any decision on pot exports. But the delay came down specifically after Netanyahu heard concerns from Erdan’s ministry that marijuana exports could be diverted to the local market for non-medical use.
An Uphill Battle Won
Luckily, a new effort to legalize medical cannabis exports was led by Yoav Kish, chairman of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, who announced the successful revival of the law in mid-December. Kish added in the tougher regulations and jail sentences, and it’s been smooth sailing ever since.
In addition to his approval of the changes in the new version of the law, Erdan cited the Treasury agreeing to provide the financial resources for his ministry to properly enforce the law and monitor approved growers as a reason for dropping his opposition.
Israel’s agriculture sector was no doubt pleased with the Christmas Day decision, judging by what they said of the original plan earlier this year.
“It’s good news for hundreds of thousands of sick in Israel and the world,” said Dubi Amitai, the president of the Israel Farmers Union. “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.”
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