Is Cannabis Legal in Israel?

Kelly Weimert

September 11th, 2017

Policy, Top News

View to Jerusalem old city. Israel

If you want to know what the future of legalized cannabis holds, then take a look at Israel.

As the United States’ federal government drags its feet on legalizing marijuana, Israel has taken advantage of medical marijuana’s fully-legal status in the country by charging ahead on long overdue research and development on the drug.

The Current Legal Status of Cannabis in Israel

Marijuana for medical purposes has been legal in Israel for several decades, permitting patients suffering from various ailments, such as cancer and multiple sclerosis, to smoke, eat, or apply the drug topically as needed.

And while recreational marijuana is still not legal in the country, Israel’s Cabinet made a decision this year to decriminalize its use for recreational purposes. This new policy means that first-time offenders might get a fine when caught smoking but they won’t receive a criminal charge.

Due to medical marijuana’s longstanding legal status in the country, Israel has taken the global lead with respect to researching the effects of cannabis on the body in general, on specificailments, and on the economy and entrepreneurship overall.

Israel’s Relationship With Cannabis Research

In addition to being among the first countries to legalize medical marijuana, Israel also happens to dedicate the world’s highest percentage of financial resources to research in general, which no doubt helps to propel them far ahead in the worldwide cannabis research game.

Not only that, but Israel is also one of only three countries with a government that has agreed to sponsor various cannabis programs—Canada and the Netherlands are the other two. Plus, the Israeli parliament is currently taking steps to legalize the export of medical marijuana, which should be available in the near future.

Given both the government and cultural tolerance for marijuana—27 percent of Israel’s population between the ages of 18 and 65 have used marijuana in the past year—it should be no surprise that Israel’s robust, ongoing cannabis research has a lot to teach us about the drug’s impact.

Medical Marijuana vs. Recreational Marijuana

One of the primary areas researchers in Israel are focusing on is identifying universal clinical standards that treatment providers can use for medical marijuana. In the United States, we use recreational and medical marijuana interchangeably. However, Yuval Landschaft, the head of Israel’s health ministry’s medical cannabis unit (IMCA) has said that ingesting recreational marijuana for medical use is, “like making chicken soup when you have a cold.”

Landschaft and his team of researchers are presently figuring out ways to refine medical marijuana and develop a medical-grade quality and efficacy standard along the entirety of the supply chain, from cultivation to distribution, that will make consumption for medical purposes more precise and targeted.

The Relationship Between Licensed Marijuana Growers and Research Institutions in Israel

Unlike the United States, Israeli authorities are very open and collaborative in their approach to and support for cannabis research and development.

People who are licensed to grow marijuana frequently participate in clinical trials and work with scientific institutions to develop strains of cannabis that can more effectively and precisely manage various illnesses and disorders. In contrast, research institutions in the United States are either not legally permitted to conduct comprehensive research or they find it too risky given its spotty legal status.

What Ailments Are Israeli Researchers Studying?

Israel currently has about 120 ongoing studies in effect, including clinical trials, that look at the impact of cannabis on a wide variety of ailments.

Among the illnesses and disorders that are presently getting the most research attention are autism, colitis, epilepsy, psoriasis, tinnitus, Crohn’s Disease, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Parkinson’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, and those suffering from chronic pain.

Much of the aforementioned research is possible thanks to Israel’s own government’s willingness to fund many of the studies. Additionally, funding comes in from the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, and other countries where it’s more costly and complicated to conduct the same studies.

Cannabis and Israeli Partisanship

Unlike the United States, where much of the pushback on legalizing cannabis comes from right-wing conservatives, in Israeli, it’s largely a bipartisan issue.

In fact, marijuana recently being decriminalized in the country was largely due to a massive push by right-wing political leader, Sharren Haskel. When asked about why she’s a proponent of cannabis, Haskel cited its clear ability to alleviate the symptoms of those suffering from various illnesses: “When you see through your own eyes the impact that only cannabis has on these diseases…within minutes you understand that this is a public health issue and you have to assist the citizens of your country.”

The marijuana industry’s massive money-making potential is another reason that a lot of Israeli conservatives are on board with its legalization, with some estimates indicating the global market for medical marijuana could reach $50 billion by 2025.

This potential is one of the primary reasons the Israeli government, as mentioned, is in the works to make it possible for local industry to  begin exporting, as some are projecting annual revenues to reach the hundreds of millions of dollars in the coming years.

Bottom Line

Due in part to it being among the first countries to legalize medical marijuana, as well as the country’s exceeding financial dedication to research and development in general, Israel is the standout leader in global studies of cannabis. They are conducting the first ever clinical trials on how cannabis might treat and manage afflictions such as autism, epilepsy, PTSD, Crohn’s Disease and many more. Furthermore, cultural and government support of marijuana is making it much easier for the country as a whole to capitalize on the massive economic growth the industry offers.

Kelly Weimert

About Kelly Weimert

Kelly is a full-time freelance writer based in Austin, TX. A happy hybrid of geek and hippie, when she's not nestled into her couch crankin' out crafty prose with her miscreant Chihuahua, you can find her frolicking outside to keep her sanity in check.

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