Israel, a leader in marijuana research and health technology, is attracting international investment as it tries to position itself as a cutting-edge exporter in the rapidly-growing market for medical-grade cannabis.
With estimates that the global market for medical marijuana could reach US$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, Reuters reports.
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 antibiotics.”
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 US, 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 US market.
In the past year, US and other firms have invested about US$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.
Kaye expects investment to grow ten-fold and reach US$1 billion over the next two years.
Tikun Olam, Israel’s largest grower, has partnered with US companies to cultivate marijuana in four US 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 US, with estimates that it will surpass US$20 billion by 2020.
But importing cannabis to the US is illegal under federal law. The only way to get around the ban is to receive approval from the US Food and Drug Administration.
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 and Chile.
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