Israel’s Cannabis Industry Pushes for Legalization: ‘The Market Would be Unlimited’
Israeli business leaders and public figures are pushing hard for the full legalization of marijuana, promoting it as a major boost for the economy and for the country’s role in the global cannabis industry.
“Everything will change dramatically overnight if there will be legalization,” former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert said in comments published Wednesday by the Associated Press. Domestically, “the market would be unlimited. It would be huge.”
While 100,000 Israeli citizens have permits for medical marijuana and possession is not criminalized, the industry is still hamstrung by government regulation and other legal restrictions.
“I really think that there is not a reason, except for some fears and obsessions and prejudices, that keeps [away] the complete legalization of cannabis,” said Olmert, who is an advisor to the Israeli marijuana firm Univo.
Olmert is not alone. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, former Shin Bet Director Yaakov Peri, and other retired officials are also advisors to marijuana companies.
“It’s a market of several hundred millions of dollars, just in medical, and it’s growing very fast in Israel,” Barak told the Associated Press. “I expect that once it will be legalized, we will see a flourishing of the market for extreme, top-quality products.”
Israel has long been involved in cannabis research, and is where THC, the chemical that gives marijuana its psychoactive effects, was first isolated in 1964. There are currently 110 Israeli companies involved in the cannabis industry.
Yet the current state of the business is “not optimal” due to government interference, said Lilac Mandeles, the Israeli CEO of the TechforCann Europe cannabis accelerator. “Supporting early-stage initiatives is challenging in Israel in general.”
In particular, the export of cannabis products is heavily restricted, cutting Israel off from lucrative North American and European markets. As a result, the country’s burgeoning marijuana industry may soon cease to be competitive.
This has already led to on-the-ground consequences. Golan Bitton, the head of Univo, noted that while his facilities can manufacture up to 80 tons of marijuana annually, last year they produced only six tons, and part of that total was from imports.
Knesset member Sharren Haskel, whose New Hope party is among the governing coalition, is spearheading reforms that will “put Israel back on the forefront” of the cannabis industry. These are intended to open up exports for local companies, as well as cut through the red tape and restrictions that have, she said, “choked the entire market.”