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The trend of cannabis regulations in Israel
As a highly religious country with over 8 million people, the views and regulations about cannabis and cannabis-derived products are, as you would expect, not as free as in the liberal regions of the world. Despite the conservative views of policymakers in Tel Aviv, a 2017 drug use survey suggests that about 27 percent of the population between ages 18-65 had consumed cannabis products at a point in time. This is regarded as one of the highest rates of cannabis use in the world. Israel’s law on the ban of cannabis originated from the criminalization of cannabis products by the British Parliament in 1925. In 1936, the British government enacted a new anti-drug that was enacted in the British mandate of Palestine in the same year.
In 1948, Israel became an independent nation and elected to keep its mandatory laws. The 1936 Dangerous Drugs Ordinance was made valid to regulate the distribution of dangerous drugs in the country, including cannabis. During this period, cannabis was only available to the European Ashkenazi elites. The ban on cannabis extended until the 1970s when the use of cannabis became popular due to the influx of Western civilization. Since the 1970s, there have been increased campaigns from different pressure groups supporting the decriminalization of cannabis. The drive for the legalization of cannabis continued until 1999, when the Israeli government officially relaxed the existing regulations in a bid to allow medicinal use of cannabis.
Subsequently, cannabis and cannabis-derivatives were made available for patients with chronic health conditions such as Neuropathic pain in cancer and AIDS. In 2007, the Israeli Ministry of Health introduced a policy granting the use of cannabis products for medicinal purposes in licensed facilities in the country. Regulation of cannabis in Israel took a new turn when the Israeli Government introduced the Government Resolution No. 1587 as a cannabis reform targeted toward establishing a new medicalization model for cannabis products. This new regulation was centered on expanding the medical indications for prescribing cannabis, the medicalization of cannabis, training of medical practitioners, and the standardization of medicinal cannabis products (Hill et al., 2017).
In 2019, the Israeli government introduced the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance Amendment 16, which among other things, granted commodity status to cannabis and cannabis-derived products. As one of the biggest producers of cannabis in the World, this amendment permits the export of medical cannabis. Provisions of this new law also decriminalize the possession of cannabis plants and its buds, allowing civilians to grow a few units of cannabis plant legally at home.
Emerging trends of cannabis use in Israel
Following the new amendment to the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance, different market analyst experts have described Israel as an emerging top-earning, a global force in the cannabis market. Coincidentally, Raphael Mechoulam, a natural product chemist who is widely regarded as the ‘Father of Cannabis Medicine,’ is of Israeli descent. Professor Mechoulam is the first scientist to isolate and describe the structure of THC—a psychoactive compound in cannabis. Currently, there is an increased demand for cannabis products by different research institutes and medical facilities in Israel. Currently, the Israeli Ministry of Health receives over 300 applications daily requesting permission for cannabis use in patients with different medical conditions, and over 23,000 patients are currently enrolled in the cannabis medical use program in Israel. (Gross et al., 2017).
With increasing demand, about 50 growers of medical cannabis are currently licensed, with over 30 physicians legally authorized to administer medical cannabis. Judging from the current global recognition for cannabis and different researchers discovering more medical potentials of the cannabis plant, the new reform is expected to affect the rapidly evolving cannabis market in Israel. The amendment has laid the needed platform for the development of an extensive distribution channel in Israel as the cannabis production chain is now separated into cultivation, production, packing, review, and distribution.
Cannabis market in Israel
Israel is known to excel in agricultural commodities, and with new commodity status conferred on cannabis, the Israeli cannabis market is expected to experience impressive boom overtime. The presentation forms of cannabis in the market include ointments, pills, flowers, and oils. Over 900 local farmers have applied for a license to grow medical cannabis in the country. Currently, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange lists around 30 cannabis-related companies with shares estimated in millions of dollars. Market experts have projected that the Israeli government is poised to capitalize on the budding industry by one billion NIS in taxes and accruing income stream.
Just like every profitable market, the cannabis market in Israel attracts a host of foreign investors. Reputable companies with a commanding presence in the Israeli cannabis market include California-based Steep Hill Labs, Ontario-based Cronos Group, and Toronto-based MedReleaf owned by Aurora Cannabis. The cannabis market is also regulated as foreign investors are requested to obtain regulatory approval for stakes more than five percent. In 2019, Nabis Holdings—a British Columbia based investment firm with a focus on cannabis products concluded plans to buy a 49 percent stake in Cannova Medicals—an Israeli based cannabis biotech company. The agreement included a $1 million cash payment to Cannova with the inclusion of about six million common shares of Nabis.
Israel currently boasts of an advanced cannabis research and technology sector, which is regarded as a model for other countries interested in the cannabis trade. Taking advantage of the commodity status export authorization of cannabis and the vast export opportunities, licensed cannabis growers in Israel have increased their cultivation rate as export is expected to increase the valuation of cannabis stocks in the nearest future.
Although the use of cannabis for the medical purpose has been legalized in Israel, recreational cannabis is still prohibited under the existing legislation. Only Canada and ten U.S. states have different legislation backing the legal possession of cannabis for recreational purposes globally. The campaigns to legalize cannabis use in Israel are taking a new turn with a different organized group calling for the decriminalization of recreational cannabis.