With estimates that the global market for medical marijuana could
reach $50 billion by 2025, the Israeli government is set to allow
the local industry to start exporting and projects annual revenues
in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Medical cannabis is a relatively new field with no universal
clinical standard. Israel aims to fill the void by combining its
expertise in agriculture, technology and cannabis-based medicine,
said Yuval Landschaft, head of the health ministry's medical
cannabis unit (IMCA).
"In the United States, for example, they use recreational marijuana
for medical use - that's like making chicken soup when you have a
cold," Landschaft told Reuters. "We're the ones making the
The strategy is to create medical-grade cannabis with quality and
efficacy ensured along the entire supply chain from cultivation to
manufacture and distribution.
In contrast to the United States, which is currently the biggest
legal marijuana market, authorities in Israel are liberal in their
support of research and development.
Licensed marijuana growers work with scientific institutions in
clinical trials toward the development of cannabis strains that
treat a variety of illnesses and disorders.
There are about 120 studies ongoing in Israel, including clinical
trials looking at the effects of cannabis on autism, epilepsy,
psoriasis and tinnitus.
The health ministry wants to share its acquired knowledge and train
doctors from abroad. Talks are underway with Australia, Germany,
Brazil and others, Landschaft said.
The government gave the go-ahead in February to legislation that
would allow export.
More than 500 Israeli companies have applied for licenses to grow,
manufacture and export cannabis products, according to government
officials, and some are already capitalizing on the booming U.S.
In the past year, U.S. and other firms have invested about $100
million to license Israeli medical marijuana patents, cannabis
agro-tech startups and firms developing delivery devices such as
inhalers, said Saul Kaye, chief executive of iCAN, a private
cannabis research hub in Israel.
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Kaye expects investment to grow ten-fold and reach $1 billion over
the next two years.
Tikun Olam, Israel's largest grower, has partnered with U.S.
companies to cultivate marijuana in four U.S. states, chief
executive Aharon Lutzky said. Pending government approval, it hopes
to export to Europe and South America.
The biggest marijuana market for now is the United States, with
estimates that it will surpass $20 billion by 2020.
But importing cannabis to the United States is illegal under federal
law. The only way to get around the ban is to receive approval from
the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Britain's GW Pharmaceuticals' Epidiolex - an experimental
cannabis-based drug to treat epilepsy - could be the first to get
the green light.
"The medical cannabis industry is much larger than the U.S.," said
Matthew Ginder, whose Florida-based law firm represents cannabis
businesses, including in Israel.
Growing acceptance of medical marijuana creates opportunities in
countries that have legalized medical marijuana but have not
developed the infrastructure, he said.
Canada, for instance, exports medical cannabis to Australia, Croatia
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Tom Heneghan)
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