Israel, a leading medical cannabis research hub, has rolled out new laws that ease restrictions surrounding medical cannabis possession and consumption. In a move to offer flexibility to its growing pool of 30,000+ registered patients, the Israeli Health Ministry issued a new directive that allows individuals holding a valid permit to use cannabis in public, which is currently in effect.
So far, the only methods of consumption that were approved includes oil and vapor. Although helpful to those who are having a difficult time incorporating medicinal cannabis in their busy lifestyle, the majority of patients still prefer to smoke cannabis, which was not given the green light by officials.
“In smoking, even cannabis, other combustible materials are involved and the results of the burning can harm others,”
said Yuval Landschaft, leader of the Health Ministry’s cannabis division, during an interview with Haaretz.
The lax guidelines specifically target groups that need to partake in the medicinal plant during times of emergency, as well as those who are on a strict periodic dosing schedule. Children suffering from an epilepsy disorder are to directly benefit from the health authority’s timely directive. Under the new regulation, such patients will be able to openly drop cannabis oil in their food or directly in their mouth without scrutiny.
It is important to consider that cannabis derivatives used to treat epilepsy are high in CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid, and low in THC, a compound in the plant that is responsible for cerebral stimulation.
Know the Rules
For Israel-based patients who prefer to vape cannabis, there are some additional guidelines that limit the medium’s applications. Vaporizing the herb is prohibited in locations where minors gather, such as schools and other educational institutions. Furthermore, it is still banned in airports. Registered patients are not allowed to vape cannabis in front of people. Professionals who work around heavy machinery or are holding positions in the public transportation sector are also prohibited from vaporizing cannabis in the workplace to ensure the safety of commuters.
Previously, legally consuming cannabis in the country was only encouraged in private establishments – mostly residential homes. Patients were required to list an address where they would store and partake in the plant during the registration process. They were also not allowed to consume it in front of people.
This outdated regulation caused several issues for people who don’t spent a lot of time at the registered address. Additionally, going on vacation or moving to a new home required patients to update their address in the permit.
The Health Ministry’s decision is very timely, as the country recently decriminalized cannabis in March. Under the ruling, individuals caught consuming cannabis without valid permits will be fined $271 (first offense). Punishment intensifies, depending on the number of times one is caught. The fourth offense entails criminal charges.
“This is an important step, but not the end of the road. It sends a message that millions of Israelis who consume marijuana aren’t criminals,” explained MK Tamar Zandberg, chairwoman of the Knesset Special Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse.
Israel has been devoted to cannabis research on a large scale, and for a longer amount of time, more than any other country in the world. Now, one of their top cannabis companies is coming to America.
“Tikun Olam is the gold standard for pharmaceutical grade medical cannabis production in both Israel and Canada. The US cannabis market is becoming more sophisticated, looking beyond high-THC content to demand medically-proven, quality products for therapeutic cannabis use as part of a healthy lifestyle,”
said Bernard Sucher, CEO of T.O. Global LLC.
“We are confident that entering the medical and adult-use U.S. market with a genuine approach to health and wellness, will position Tikun for a successful expansion where regulated markets exist.”
Tikun Olam, which will be named Tikun in the United States, will license its intellectual property, methodology, and years of experience to CW Nevada LLC, and will distribute cannabis products to Nevada dispensaries.
Cannabis research in Israel dates back to the mid 1960’s. While researchers in the United States have been forced to work inconspicuously due to federal regulation, Israel’s Ministry of Health has welcomed cannabis research, and is actively funding and facilitating research efforts. Tikum Olam is the largest medical marijuana producer in Israel, and distributes its products in Canada as well. Their clinical data gathered during years of research has helped develop medical marijuana products that achieve results, validated by feedback from patients. In an environment where research can be conducted openly, Tikun Olam opened a clinic where patients can learn about delivery methods and strains designed to treat their specific condition.
The United States has made progress legalizing medical marijuana, and recreational marijuana achieved victories in November with California, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Maine all legalizing. This means one in five Americans now have access to legal marijuana, which makes a collaboration with a leading Israeli cannabis company a significant addition to the American cannabis market.
“We’ve been watching the Israeli market and the incredible innovation that is coming from there, especially with the government supporting cannabis as a medical plant,”
said Jeffrey M. Zucker, President of Green Lion Partners, a strategy firm in the cannabis industry.
“The excitement surrounding new regulations that will allow cannabis export from Israel was palpable,” Zucker stated, after attending the annual Cannatech conference in March.
Nevada cannabis customers can expect to see cannabis flowers, vape cartridges, tinctures, topical products and edibles licensed by Tikun. Their strains range from strong sativas to high-CBD strains with no psychoactive effects, catering to recreational consumers and medical patients alike.
Just a couple weeks ago Israel’s cabinet voted to decriminalize cannabis, a move widely supported in the country that already utilizes and has a strong framework for medical cannabis. With this new policy, users caught in public using cannabis will be fined $250 for a first offense. This move follows the global trend of decriminalizing cannabis use, with many European nations such as Portugal, Spain, and the Netherlands leading the field in decriminalization.
So why, with much of the current progressive marijuana legislation stemming from European countries, was Israel able to follow this trend of decriminalization? The answer lies with the same body that is often to blame for anti-cannabis legislation: the government. It was only with the strong support of Israel’s Ministry of Health that spurred the country’s development as a world leader in medical cannabis use. Currently it is estimated that Israel has about 25,000 medical marijuana users, with an industry worth millions. This strong user base and policy change did not happen overnight, so we’ll examine some of the factors influencing Israel’s progressive cannabis stance.
Israel & Medical Cannabis Research
Israel has long been an unsuspecting supporter of and leader in cannabis research, beginning early in the 1960s. Israeli research in this field has truly set the standard for medical marijuana research, with much of our current knowledge on cultivation, storage, and utilization of medical cannabis coming from research funded by the country’s Ministry of Agriculture. The country is actively expanding licensing to growers, growing the list of doctors allowed to prescribe medical cannabis, and continually funding more research. It is this financial support, combined with the team effort and agreement of Israel’s Justice, Internal Security, Finance, and Agriculture ministries, that is fueling the wave of legalization in the country now.
Israel also drafted the “Green Book”, a piece of literature containing comprehensive information on medical cannabis intended for physicians. This book set the standard for medical cannabis knowledge worldwide, with many countries utilizing this resource to train their own physicians on the prescription and usage of medical marijuana. It is this lack of trepidation in paving the way for marijuana research that has led Israel straight to the top of the field, firmly establishing their place as a leader in medical cannabis research.
Road to Decriminalization
In January of this year, the Public Security Minister of Israel presented a policy decreasing prosecution for recreational users of cannabis. This policy instituted fines for initial offenses, with criminal prosecution only coming into play potentially after the fourth offense. This announcement came shortly after a recommendation from the Justice Ministry that cannabis users should not be criminally prosecuted.
Simultaneously with this policy reform was the regulation of marijuana from production to prescription. Israel has been judicious and thoughtful with its regulation of how medical cannabis is grown and prescribed, with extensive resources and training for everyone from cultivators to physicians. While setting no limits on the amount of pharmacies that can be licensed to sell medical cannabis, Israel does have strict guidelines in place for storage of cannabis and in the training of pharmacists licensed to dispense cannabis products.
It is this cascading governmental support that paved the path to decriminalization just this month. Now, the Israeli government is even considering allowing exports of medical marijuana, which would make it one of the very few countries worldwide to do so.
Example to Follow
Israel provides a firm example of how scientific research and a government that supports and changes policy based on this research can initiate real change. The strong inter-department support, along with a storied and well-funded history of scientific research, has paved the path to Israel’s current decriminalized status of cannabis. While Israel has long been a shining light in the field of medical cannabis research, with many countries utilizing its extensive research results and documentation, it now enters the stage as a leading example of how governmental cooperation partnered with science-based decisions can influence policy change.
On Sunday, Israel’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation will vote whether or not to loosen up the nation’s cannabis laws. Israel’s Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, said during an interview yesterday with Army Radio that the new policy would prevent marijuana possession from resulting in a “criminal act.”
Should the new policy move forward, Israelis ages 21-and over possessing under 15 grams of cannabis would receive fines and no longer receive blemishes on their criminal records. People caught smoking cannabis in public would receive a heftier fine of 1,500 shekels ($388) while those caught smoking at home would be fined 300 shekels ($78).
The bill, however, does not legalize cannabis and therefore does nothing to protect Israelis who grow cannabis in their own homes. A comparable bill that would have decriminalized up to five grams of cannabis was rejected in March, but this one appears to have more momentum.
An aid of Minister Shaked’s indicated that the goal of this bill is, since so many Israelis smoke cannabis, to stop arresting people for this commonplace act. The aid stated that
“The minister is examining various possibilities to refrain from incriminating people for using soft drugs like cannabis. This includes converting criminal registration to administrative fines. Drugs are a negative thing, but the incrimination of people using soft drugs should be examined.”
Considering Israel is the European hub for medical marijuana with 21,000 registered patients, this bill makes a lot of sense. Moreover, the nation aims to become the European and perhaps worldwide cannabis hub.
Decriminalizing possession would pave the way for that hub to become a reality.
Tel Aviv is already a tech capital in its own right, but Israeli leaders are looking to medical marijuana as their next big pharmaceutical export.
Israel’s Ministry of Health is trying to change the cannabis conversation from one steeped in cultural taboo to a conversation about a medicine with huge potential. “I’m not sure that my people, my voters are so happy about what I did,” said Health Minister and Rabbi Yaakov Litzman to CNN.
“If I have to look strictly at how I can help sick people who need this cannabis, I think I did the right thing.”
While there are biblical references to marijuana, Judaism does not have a specific position on marijuana, and objections from the religious community have centered on the ethics of drug use, rather than cannabis’ legitimacy as a medicine.
The environment for cannabis research is much more friendly in Israel than the United States, where cannabis is still illegal at the federal level. Much of US research focuses on whether or not cannabis is effective as a medicine, but Israeli startups and research companies are already developing better delivery methods, more potent products and customized treatments based on a patient’s needs.
“Everything is set up here to be the epicentre of cannabis research,”
said Clifton Flack, co-founder of iCan which operates the annual CannaTech conference. The conference is aimed at companies like Syqe Medical, which is developing a metered inhaler that delivers controlled doses of medical marijuana.
“It could be a business of hundreds of millions of dollars to Israel,”
said Aharon Lutzky, CEO of medical cannabis supplier Tikun Olam. Lutzky’s company is developing high CBD plants with little to no THC, as well as strains with more THC than any other strains of cannabis.
Other companies are looking at a whole-plant use of cannabis. A company called Eybna is developing strains meant to treat a specific ailment, and start-up Kalytera is targeting osteoporosis by using different isolated cannabinoids, the medicinally effective chemical compounds in cannabis.
While Israel only has 23,000 medical patients, the goal is to export to the United States and become part of its legal cannabis industry, which is expected to reach $100 billion by 2029. Currently, Israel cannot export cannabis to the United States, but the research and technology developed by Israeli companies will help drive America’s fastest growing industry.