Nearly 400 Israeli farmers have recently applied for permits to grow cannabis following the government’s decision last year to ease restrictions on medical marijuana, representatives from the
Israeli Ministry of Health told lawmakers this week during a session on cannabis reform in the Knesset’s Special Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse.
The number marks a sharp increase in demand as Israel positions itself to be a top medical cannabis exporter with hopes of $1 billion worth of annual sales.
Health Ministry officials also told the Knesset members on the committee, chaired by Meretz lawmaker Tamar Zandberg, that the agency received over 250 applications for cannabis nurseries seeking to distribute the plants, 95 requests to set up cannabis pharmacies, 60 applications for processing facilities, and 44 requests to set up stores selling cannabis products. The officials said that of the 383 requests from farmers, 242 have already received preliminary approval, with the majority of the other applications also getting the okay. Currently, there are only eight farms growing marijuana in Israel, according to Cannabis Magazine.
Earlier this year, the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture officially classified the growing of medical cannabis as a “farming sector,” paving the way for marijuana growers to receive government aid, grants, training and water quotas, just like any other eligible farmer. The government also announced this year that it would invest $2.13 million in 13 research projects on cannabis, making Israel one of three countries with a government-sponsored cannabis program.
The developments in the Israeli cannabis industry has attracted international attention with foreign investors pouring $100 million last year into Israeli cannabis startups, according to Saul Kaye, founder and CEO of cannabis tech startup accelerator iCAN.
But the local market remains small with just 32,000 patients registered for medical marijuana consumption.
The head of the Health Ministry’s Medical Cannabis Unit, Yuval Landsheft, told lawmakers that in January 2018, 22 pharmacies in Israel would receive permits to sell medical cannabis products with GMP (good manufacturing practice) certification to serve local patients, and that the number of doctors allowed to issue medical cannabis prescriptions would be expanded. The licensing process for those with permits to use medical marijuana will also be overhauled, he indicated.
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Landsheft also outlined a challenge for the local industry to promote the growth of quality cannabis and root out sub-standard plants based on strains brought from aboard.
“Most of what’s currently grown in Israel either does not meet the standards or is based on strains that have been smuggled into the country illegally,” Landscheft told the committee, as cited by Green Market Report. To export aboard, farmers must have GAP (Good Agricultural Practice) certification in accordance with the medical cannabis reform, a process that may take a number of years.
The unit has been working on setting up bank of marijuana strains ranked according to potency.
Landsheft indicated that as more farmers are given licenses to grow cannabis, strains will improve. “Serious farmers have the incentive and the knowledge to maintain tight quality control on their crops, and marijuana is no different,” he was quoted by Green Market Report as saying.
Meretz MK Tamar Zanberg, who chairs the committee, urged the Health Ministry to redouble efforts and remove bureaucratic roadblocks to the expansion of the industry. “The potential health and economic benefits of medical marijuana are incredible, and we are paying dearly for every moment wasted,” she told the committee.
Zandberg has previously hailed the Israeli cannabis industry and said earlier this year that this was an export “Israel can be very proud of” because Israel stands at “the forefront of technological, medical and cultural developments.”