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Agriculture in Israel: Cannabis

Israel has been a leader in cannabis technology and research since the mid-20th century.  The principal psychoactive component of cannabis, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), was first isolated and studied by Raphael Mechoulam of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem's Center for Research on Pain, and Yechiel Gaoni of the Weizmann Institute, in 1964.

Israelis with cancer, parkinsons, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, crohns disease, PTSD, and various other medical issues have been able to access medical marijuana in Israel since the mid-1990's. The government of Israel recognizes medicinal marijuana production as an economic opportunity.  Medical marijuana research is funded by the Israeli government, and there are currently more than 25,000 patients in Israel who use cannabis for medicinal purposes.  Marijuana for these individuals is grown on eight farms, and is sold through a state-run distribution system. 

The IDF approved the use of medicinal marijuana to treat PTSD in 2004. 

Cannabis Business/Research

Established medical companies in Israel are getting in on the ground-floor of the marijuana industry.  In 2016 Teva Pharmaceutical Industries signed a large distribution and cooperation agreement with Syqe Medical, who are developing inhalers for precise delivery of medical cannabis. 

A company called Tikun Olam grows and supplies medical marijuana to patients under certification and supervision of the Israeli government; the first company of it's kind to do so in the country.  In 2012 Tikun Olam announced that they had developed a strain of marijuana containing less than 2% of the psychoactive substance THC, and a higher-than-normal amount of the medically viable cannabidiol. This cannabis provides the anti-inflamatory properties and medicinal benefits that patients expect, but without the intoxication experienced when consuming normal cannabis products.  Tikun Olam grows 12 strains of cannabis, including two strains containing less than 1% THC.

Israel's premiere venture-fund and technology incubator for cannabis, iCan: Israel-Cannabis, provides funding, support, and work-space for smaller cannabis ventures.

Israeli Minister of Health, Ya’akov Litzman, issued reform guidelines for medical marijuana in June 2016.  These reforms: expanded the number of doctors who could prescribe medicinal marijuana, removed government-imposed limits on the number of registered marijuana growers, and made cannabis more widely available at approved pharmacies. 

Israel's Agriculture Ministry allocated $2.1 million in January 2017 to finance research into medical cannabis growth, biochemistry, medicinal value, cultivation, and distrubution. 

The Volcani Center, the Israeli Agriculture ministry's research organization, broke ground on a National Center for Research on Medical Cannabis in early 2016.  It is estimated that the $700,000 research center will be operational by mid-to-late-2017.  

Use in Israel

In March 2017, the Israeli Cabinet under Prime Minister Netanyahu voted to decriminalize marijuana for recreational use.  Under the proposed measure posession of marijuana would no longer result in jail-time for the first four offenses, but only an escalating fine scale begining at approximately $270 U.S.  This vote was a cabinet decision, and requires a vote in the Knesset to become binding.  Speaking about the vote, Netanyahu proudly stated, we are opening ourselves up to the future.

Recreational marijuana use is quite common in Israel, with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reporting that almost 10% of Israelis use the drug recreationally.  Officials believe this estimate to be low however, due to underreporting based on the negative stigma associated with cannabis use.  Arrests for marijuana are rare in Israel; only 188 people were arrested for marijuana use in 2015.  Most of these individuals were never charged with a crime. 

Sources: Kershner, Isabel.   Israel, a Medical Marijuana Pioneer, Is Eager to Capitalize, New York Times, (December 17, 2016);
Solomon, Shoshanna.  Israel to fund research for medical cannabis crops, Times of Israel, (January 24, 2017);
Fisher, Ian.  Israeli Cabinet Makes Move to Decriminalize Recreational Marijuana Use, New York Times, (March 5, 2017);
Lubell, Maayan.  Israel gives green light to decriminalize marijuana use, Reuters, (March 5, 2017);