The Surprising Country Pioneering The Medical Marijuana Industry

The U.S. is missing the emerging medical cannabis trade. One country, though, is quickly taking the initiative to be the next medical marijuana pioneer.

Feb 25, 2016

The U.S. is missing the boat in the emerging medical cannabis trade. One country, though, is quickly taking the initiative to be the next medical marijuana pioneer: Israel. The nation that gave us key strains like Avidekel and El-na may soon be the world’s largest exporter of medical cannabis. 

A different model of medicine

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In U.S. legal medical marijuana states like California, there’s a dispensary practically on every corner. Israel is going about medical cannabis in a very different way. U.S. states may allow medical cannabis for ailments like anxiety, back pain, and insomnia, but Israels program targets those with serious debilitating illnesses.

Patients also need to jump through several bureaucratic hoops before they’re allowed to access the plant. While this approach is very cautious on Israel’s part, overall the country has taken medical marijuana research very seriously. Back in 2000, the state even gave it’s highest honor to Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, the man who discovered THC. Since then, Israel has awarded Mechoulam several other prizes for pioneering cannabis research and advancing the field on the country’s behalf.

Now, Israel’s medical cannabis program is advancing slowly but steadily. In the United States, medical marijuana dispensaries opened up prior to research being conducted on the efficacy of the plant. Cannabis research has been held back due to strict DEA and governmental regulations. Israel took the opposite approach. They began their cannabis research back in the 1960s, and their medical marijuana program, MECHKAR, began as an extremely small experiment beginning in 2008. MECHKAR grew from a network of 1,800 patients in 2008 to a large, regulated medical community of over 22,000 today.

Medical marijuana to hit pharmacies

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Currently, only 36 doctors are legally allowed to prescribe cannabis in Israel. This means that patients have to wait up to several months before they can access the medicine they really need. Fortunately, the Health Ministry is set to license and train a number of new doctors, as well as give approval to several more growers throughout the country. Patients would be able to acquire medical marijuana through pharmacies via joints, cookies, and oil.

Last month, the Times of Israel cited Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who stated:

We’re working to reorganize the field of medical cannabis in order to lighten the process for those who need it and, on the other hand, to make it harder for the material to trickle into the regular market. There is no reason to make things difficult for whoever really needs it, just because there’s someone who exploits it illegally.

A bright future for Israel

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Back in 2013, Alternet interviewed Israeli politician Boaz Wachtel. Wachtel is a pro-cannabis figurehead in the country, with the hope of decriminalizing marijuana throughout Israel. Alternet explains:

Israel—which has the highest ratio of university degrees to the population in the world and produces more scientific papers per capita than any other nation—has become a world leader in cannabis research as a result of the U.S.’s continued blockade of cannabis research. He says this is wonderful for Israel, but not for society at large.

But, Israel’s strong lead in cannabis research is just one way the country is spearheading the rise of a pro-cannabis economy. Israel expects to use the herb as a medical export. While the Ministry of Health hopes to keep tight reigns on the medical marijuana program within the state, the wheels are already in motion to turn cannabis into one of Israel’s prime sources of export revenue.

Like Afghanistan with the medicinal poppy trade, Israel is set to take the lead as the global supplier of medical cannabis as laws around the world continue to lax.

Tamir Gedo, CEO of Breath of Life, a software manufacture for clinical trials in cannabis pharmaceuticals, told TechCruch: “The Israeli government has started to understand the economic benefits of cannabis. I believe medical cannabis will be bigger and more profitable than all the arms exports combined.”

This idea is supported by the chairman of the Green Leaf party, Oren Leibovitz. “In the next few months, the exporting of medical cannabis might be approved by the Knesset [Israeli parliament], which will make cannabis the country’s #1 export, superseding weaponry and, potentially, natural gas,” he tells interviewer Dennis Mitzner.

Though both the medical and recreational cannabis industries are booming in the United States, it’s Israel that’s doing things right when it comes to taking the global lead in the cannabis movement. Not only is their medical cannabis program one of the largest, governmentally regulated programs in the world, but the country is also looking toward the future when it comes to integrating the plant into its legal economy.

What do you think about Israel’s medical cannabis initiatives? Why do you think the U.S. has continued to lag behind? Share your thoughts with us on social media or in the comments section below. We want to hear your thoughts!

Feb 25, 2016