Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a Likud party faction meeting on Monday that the country’s law enforcement and the Public Security Ministry oppose a plan to export medical marijuana, according to a meeting attendee.
Israel has already granted licenses to a handful of cannabis growers and manufacturers, but exports are stalled over a multi-million-shekel funding dispute to securely hold the drug at Ben Gurion International Airport.
The Public Safety Ministry’s legal adviser, Yoel Hadar, told a Knesset hearing on Monday that the ministry supports exporting marijuana, provided that it get more money to prevent medicinal marijuana from being abused recreationally.
The proposal has run into other roadblocks, with US President Donald Trump reportedly calling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu three weeks ago to object to the planned medical cannabis exports. The Israeli government is said to have agreed to Trump’s request, out of concern of not endangering the relationship with a vital ally.
After Netanyahu halted the export plan, he punted it back to the Health Ministry and the chairman of the National Economic Council, Avi Simhon, for further review. The prime minister ultimately must approve the export since marijuana is legally classified as a drug.
Amid concerns that a billion-dollar industry is at stake due to Trump’s request and bureaucratic complications, Knesset members from the coalition and opposition on the Economic Affairs Committee spoke out in favor of exporting the drug.
Economics committee Chairman MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) said: “My intention is to make the export of medical cannabis become a fait accompli… It could be a dramatic change for Israeli agriculture, and if we don’t do it, someone else will.”
He added that exports of the drug, deemed illegal in many countries, could help revitalize agriculture, given that the average age of a farmer is over 60.
“If medical cannabis helps tens of millions of people around the world, and if it can save Israeli agriculture… then we can benefit from it,” Cabel added.
After news of the committee hearing, marijuana-related companies on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange rallied. Together Startup Network was up by some 23.21% in one day while Medivie was up 3.01% as of closing.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi) said: “Our role, as the Jewish people, is to provide a cure for so many people.” The minister also denied that Trump had pressured Netanyahu to curtail the export approval.
“There is no appeal by US President Trump on the matter. The prime minister is the address to go to,” Ariel added.
The Health and Finance Ministries project that marijuana exports could bring between NIS 1 billion to NIS 4b. ($290 million to $1.1b.) in revenue annually.
In 2016, Israel enacted regulations that permitted farmers to apply for marijuana cultivation licenses.
Currently, there are around 12 approved cannabis-growing farms in Israel, according to attorney Hagit Weinstock who represents some of the growers in court, and 277 farmers and entrepreneurs have received individual licenses.
Those farms produce more than Israel’s domestic consumption of medical marijuana, leading to a question of what to do with the remaining supply of the drug.
Besides for Israel, Canada – the world’s largest medicinal cannabis exporter – and the Netherlands are some of the only countries to have operating, government-sponsored cannabis programs.
Many European Union countries are clamoring to provide medical marijuana but lack suppliers. Israeli companies have many signed agreements to export them the drug, according to Weinstock. The latest obstacle could threaten those lucrative contracts.
“Israel has a rare window of opportunity that will be a fatal mistake to miss,” said Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg, who is also running in the primary to lead the left-wing party. “The government conducted a structured process to regulate the export of cannabis, and suddenly the speeding train stopped at the Prime Minister’s Office.”