Major cannabis reforms in Israel look imminent as all parties across the ruling coalition government supported a bill that would reform the country’s medical cannabis laws in its first reading. 

The bill is partially a result of demand surpassing what the current regulatory ecosystem can provide for Israeli patients. A lot of Israeli patients have been frustrated with exports picking up while their jars sit empty due to licensing hurdles. The main goal of the legislation was to increase cultivation, distribution and ease of access. 

People had their fears going into the first reading. A few months back, legalization hopes were scrapped when the Ra’am party opposed the move. It was a tough pill to swallow for Muslim cannabis activists working on the issue. This led to members of the opposition having confidence in similar results until Ra’am came out in support of medical cannabis while reaffirming its opposition to wider legalization in the process. 

Another big change from years past is that during the transition, a health minister that supports the medical cannabis reform came into power. New Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz went a step further a few months ago when he became the first health minister to come out in favor of all-out legalization.

Following the first reading of the current medical reform effort, Horowitz said the issue had been stalled by bureaucracy over the years. He’s excited for the more than 100,000 Israeli patients to get their pot. 

According to the Times of Israel, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu only skipped the vote because he didn’t realize the New Hope party was able to get the backing of Ra’am. Surprise!

As with many California-based cannabis companies that transitioned from the medical era, Israel’s oldest state-licensed cannabis producer Tikun Olam got its start as a nonprofit growing for a limited number of patients and eventually became a full-fledged company in 2010. 

Tikun Olam’s chief revenue officer Tom Grebenstein explained that a lot of Israeli cannabis know-how has already been exported despite how tight things are. When I asked about the passing of the first reading possibly leading to simplification of the way they do business, he noted the company doesn’t really view the process through a regulatory lens.

“I don’t know that it does,” Grebenstein told L.A. Weekly. “I think there’s a right way to produce cannabis. There’s an ethical way to produce cannabis. And that doesn’t really change in the format of regulatory issues.”

Tikun Olam’s Canadian mothership entity essentially licenses its tech and the pool of knowledge to its U.S.-based entity for a fee. So what happened in parliament is further removed from impacting the way they do business than a lot of the Israeli cannabis policy debates of the past that licensed the company in the first place. 

“We pay a licensing fee or a royalty to the parent company and for that, we have access and rights to the genetics. How we choose to use those genetics is dictated basically by the regulatory environment in the location,” Grebenstein said. 

We asked Gerbenstein if the years of Israeli research they’re falling back on gives them an edge against the U.S.-based pharma industry looking to do a lot of research on cannabis. Grebenstein believes it does. But the population factor sometimes limited how far the Israeli researchers could take it. 

“You’ve only got 9 million people in Israel. So whenever you’re doing a clinical study, you’re going to have a very small sample size. But that creates at least the foundation or very very strong anecdotal evidence for the continued studying,” Grebenstein said. “What we can do then is say okay, yes, this study only had 900 participants because there just aren’t that many Israelis that have Crohn’s disease.”

But even within the limited data set, over the years they’ve been able to find plenty of things to take to wider study. It’s possible the DEA’s recent decision to let more people grow research-grade marijuana could play a big part in that wider research. Tikun Olam is currently in talks with some of the recently awarded permits to license their genetics to grow for research.

But as Israeli companies prep to produce more cannabis, they’re linking up with Los Angeles-based Seed Junky Genetics on a quest to grow the heat. 

“I think Israel is one of the biggest up-and-coming places right now,” Seed Junky told L.A. Weekly after learning about the vote. 

Seed Junky believes the vote further reinforced the expected long-term medical focus of the Israeli marketplace. Regardless, he still believes it’s amazing the government is beginning to take steps to provide for Israeli patients. But like many, he agreed it’s easy to also see the geographic potential of Israel in the years to come. 

“I think it’s going to be a powerhouse in international trade. If you realistically look at it, it’s a nice little spot to distribute to other countries,” Seed Junky said. They believe the companies operating in Israel at the moment are laying the groundwork for that future, but their primary goal is crafting a better quality of product. 

“Israel is going to be the medical leader, the medical advancer of the product on an international level. That’s their niche. They need some better genetics in order to do the research to the degree that they’re trying to do it,” Seed Junky said. “So that’s why we reached out. We have some great partners over there.”

California is the heartland of marijuana, but Israel is the birthplace of cannabis science. How cool was it for the Seed Junky team that people from that birthplace hit them up to help grow better weed? 

“It’s humbling, to be honest. Just to be recognized and asked to do it is beyond cool, but I think the coolest part about it is just the ability to continue our craft to levels that we never imagined before,” they replied.

The International Jewish Cannabis Association pointed to the relationships of all Israelis with cannabis when sharing its excitement about the vote. 

“The International Jewish Cannabis Association (IJCA) is ecstatic to learn about the recent advancement of the Cannabis Reform Bill in Israel’s Parliament,” IJCA National Director Batya Messenger said in an email to L.A. Weekly. “Not only are we happy to see easier access on the horizon for millions of Israelis (Jews, Muslims, Christians, Bedouins, Arabs and more) but we are inspired by the teamwork involved to pass such legislation.”

Messenger also noted this is further proof of what’s possible when all Israelis come together in solidarity on issues. 

“With only three more votes needed to sign the bill into law, the overwhelming support is a microcosm of what can happen when Jews and Muslims work together for the wellness and overall betterment of creation,” Messenger said. “We have heard from quite a few of our Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Indigenous Canna-Siblings, and they are celebrating this unity over plant healing! We eagerly anticipate more of this ‘coming together for the people’ on a global scale!” 

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