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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.

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