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Netanyahu Shuts Down Israel’s Cannabis Export Plan

Israel has halted its plan to export medical cannabis. Following a call from U.S. President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu ordered it to be frozen.

“I spoke with Trump and he told me about his general opposition to the legalization of cannabis,” Netanyahu explained on Feb. 8. “I’m not sure Israel should be the export pioneer.”

Israel’s Health and Finance ministries endorsed the export plan in 2017, with the goal of attaining revenues of more than $1 billion a year. The marijuana would be sold to European countries such as Germany, Canada, and perhaps the U.S. Canada is currently the only country in the world that has so far approved medical-marijuana exports.

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Knesset member Tamar Zandberg, who chairs the committee on drug abuse, called Netanyahu’s decision “a destructive one stemming from ignorance and fear.”

She added: “Israel merited being an agricultural power, and, yes, in the marijuana field, too. It’s good for the economy, it’s good for agriculture and it’s good for the sick. We will live to regret the decision to stop such important progress that Israel has already started making, which will erase the competitive advantage that Israel has developed in the marijuana market that is breaking ground now worldwide.”

Before the freeze on cannabis exports was announced, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked tweeted: “Israel can become an exporter of medical cannabis with an income worth four billion shekels [$1.14 billion] a year. We must not miss the train. Today, we are the locomotive; if we hesitate, we will become the trailers.”

Packaged cannabis available from Breath of Life Pharma in Israel (photo by Jack Guez/AFP)

Israel is world-renowned for its cannabis research. THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, was discovered in the early ’60s by chemist Raphael Mechoulam, now 87, a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Other Israeli scientists have gone on to make groundbreaking discoveries about the cannabis plant and its potential as a medicine.

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Consumption, sale, research and cultivation of medical marijuana in Israel are completely legal and supported by the government and academia. In a country that’s slightly smaller than New Jersey in both area and population, there are an estimated 50 companies that either cultivate medical cannabis or are developing delivery systems for it.

Despite the decision by Netanyahu, Shaked is confident that she and others will be able to change his mind. “I’m sure that when we sit with the prime minister and we lay out for him all the details,” she commented, “the correct decision will be taken.”

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