Israel Cannabis: Under the Hood

Israel Cannabis: Under the Hood

As individual states across the US loosen their grip on decades of cannabis prohibition, the world has a front row seat to the birth, and the inevitable growing pains, of a new multi-billion dollar cannabis economy. The recreational cannabis market is hitting some major developmental milestones and is no doubt a force to be reckoned with. As early as January 2018, anyone with a valid ID proving that they are of legal age to purchase, will be able to buy just about any version or variation of cannabis in eight different states across the greater United States. There is no mistaking: the commercialization of “Big Pot” has arrived.

As Israelis operating in the cannabis space, we have an interesting vantage point from which to  watch the “wild rec” story unfold. While the US market most definitely informs social trends, the big waves rippling through the US haven’t, and likely won’t, affect the local market here in Israel. Although medical cannabis has been federally legal here for over three decades, Israel doesn’t have, and is making no moves, to create a recreational cannabis market. It’s strictly medical…with the promise of export on the horizon.

Two radically different approaches to cannabis.

Patients and their medical conditions are the fuel behind Israel’s local cannabis market. Borne to create real medicine for real diseases, Israel’s legendary research scientists continue the work they began in the early 60’s, driving data and finding solutions to some of the most fundamental questions in the field of cannabis medicine. Government funded research is the driver of the Israeli cannabis market, heavy handed in the R&D department with special focus on plant genetics, ag-tech and clinical research.

“In Israel, agriculture is hi-tech,” said Nirit Bernstein, PhD in a recent interview with CannaTech at her office at the Volcani Institute. The depth of study and research being done on the cannabis plant is stunning.

It is the absence of the noise that a recreational market produces that allows for a whole lot of science to unfold, and unfold quickly. Blessedly, other countries like Canada, Spain and the Czech Republic are actively involved in cannabis research and are adding to the collective body of scientific knowledge. But you’d be hard pressed to find a state with a more supportive environment towards medical cannabis study, active government funding and decades of maturity in the field. 

iCAN doesn’t see Israel as a competitor in a global race towards cannabis dominance as the media often likes to spin it – but we do see Israel as she always has been; data driven, with extensive expertise in R&D, science, ag, and hi-tech. Eventually, even a ‘pseudo-medical’ market will need validation of their products.

“In the near future, we are going to see a host of new medical products and innovative business solutions catering to the cannabis industry based upon Israel’s unique ability to put science to work.” Says Clifton Flack, iCAN’s Chief Marketing Officer. “Our experiences in science based validation and data driven optimization of market demands will be found powering many cannabis products. We call this ‘Israel-under-the-hood.’” Simply put, Israel has the resources,the know-how and the framework to sustain the growing R&D demands of such a large market.

This is the gift of a strictly medical program: it allows for focus. It also allows for extensive development and study on specific compounds and their applications. Israel’s unique regulatory environment has allowed doctors time to get on board with the program and start the tough work of mainstreaming this medicine. It is a work in progress, to be sure, but make no mistake, there is progress. A medically based market also allows evidence-based trends to emerge, which we believe everyone agrees is a good thing and offers equal market value across both the medical and recreational markets.  

“It’s not about a ‘good’ versus a ‘bad’ market, it’s just a totally different market. Money will be made in both markets, but the long term strategy from farm to pharma that iCAN has focused on allows us to create turnkey solutions for new emerging markets” says Saul Kaye, CEO iCAN:israel-cannabis.

You can look at Israel’s program is like the tenured professor to the US’s cool, rasta-surfer dude, maybe not as fun to party with, but big pharma tends to lean on the geeky professor types. We are already beginning to see big pharma’s reach into the cannabis space (GW, Teva), their steps will  have a huge impact on every sector of the global market. While rec and medical are two totally different beasts, the former being about making and developing medicine that targets specific conditions, the latter about everything else (free-trade, vegan, infused chocolates to cannabis vaginal suppositories to CBD rich pet food), there is, and will continue to be, much to learn from each other.  

So, first thing to understand when talking about Israel, is that Israel is a government backed medical market with a well established infrastructure for all manner of R&D. The Volcani Center, Israel’s 95 year old Agricultural Research Organization recently opened a National Center for Cannabis” in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development’s Agricultural Research Center (ARO). They are responsible for all genetics of medical cannabis strains, monitoring and providing the products for growers and developing new technologies for seed genetics. They are “ground zero” for all things ag-tech and their work is extremely impressive.

Also, Israel’s medical cannabis program, which began back in the mid-90’s, was a global first of it’s kind. The “Yakar,” the Ministry of Health’s cannabis unit is taking actively hammering out local reform and establishing export protocols. iCAN is honored to have a seat at the Knesset and weigh in on the greater story of Israel’s place in the global market.  

Israel currently boasts 26,000 patients licensed under its medical cannabis program. Their medicine is grown by one of eight federally licensed growers. That number will grow, as will the patient base as the roll out of Israel’s new medical cannabis reform takes hold. The current indications for medical cannabis use covered in Israel are: Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative Colitis, Chronic Pain, Neurological Disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, Tourette’s Syndrome, Epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis, PTSD, certain types of cancer, infectious disease like HIV/AIDS, and palliative care.

It is Israel’s positive regulatory environment, commitment to scientific progress and that has allowed for such a wide foundation of research and development to grow and drive data beyond the the noise and pressures of a recreational market.

If you’re interested in learning more about the data and innovation that drives this industry across the globe, if you’re interested in tuning into the scene beyond the noise of the recreational market,  then you’re definitely going to want to be a part of CannaTech 2017 hosted for the third year in a row this March 20-22 in Tel Aviv.

We’ll be very happy to show you around.  

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