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.