Q&A: What’s Next for Cannabis in Israel?

The Israel Cannabis (iCAN) conference took place in New York City last week, and given tomorrow’s Israeli election and its implications for the country’s cannabis industry, Cannabis Wire co-founder Alyson Martin caught up with iCAN founder Saul Kaye. 

Some background: while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed victory after April’s election, the outcome was inconclusive and he wasn’t successful in forming a coalition government. Now, as voters once again head to the polls on Tuesday, it’s a tight race between the Likud party (Netanyahu’s party) and the more centrist Blue and White party.

The election process has forced Netanyahu to embrace cannabis, at least verbally, as he seeks to rally support. For example, among other promises that would boost the cannabis industry, he recently said he would expand patient access to cannabis during a joint press conference with Moshe Feiglin, the Zehut party leader and an outspoken cannabis supporter. 

Israeli researchers have long been at the forefront of the medical cannabis movement, and Israel’s industry is poised for global growth. But while, in January, the country approved cannabis exports, none have yet taken place. And it’s unclear whether Netanyahu, if re-elected, intends to move forward with his promises regarding patients.

Still, this election outcome isn’t the only thing that will shape where Israel’s cannabis industry is headed next. Cannabis Wire spoke with Kaye about what it would mean if President Donald Trump is re-elected, and why passage of the SAFE Banking Act in the US could have global ripple effects. This interview has been slightly edited for length and clarity.

(Want to know more about what’s going on with cannabis in Israel, and across the globe? Check out Cannabis Wire’s Global Law Database.)

Alyson Martin, co-founder of Cannabis Wire: Israel’s been at the forefront of cannabis research for years. What’s the latest cutting edge research that’s really caught your attention? 

Saul Kaye, founder of Israel Cannabis (iCAN): The trickle down effect of research being done in Israel and other places affects regulations all over the world. We’ve seen studies from autism research to Crohn’s to ringing in the ears, PTSD, CTE, chronic Traumatic Brain Injury. We could be treating really, really sick people with cannabis. So we’re seeing a lot of different conditions that are unique, a lot of Ashkenazi Jewish diseases: arthritis, asthma. So a whole range of things.

Martin: What’s the latest in the research and development space that has the most potential? 

Kaye: The whole area of dosage and delivery. We face patients the first time they take cannabis. They do too much. They got the ill effects, they didn’t necessarily get the therapeutic effects. And they don’t want to try cannabis anymore. So it’s a battle, and we need to be able to figure out how to dose it correctly, and how to deliver it in a way that doctors can prescribe. And they’re not going to be prescribing taking a joint three times a day. 

Martin: This week is an important week in Israeli politics with the election on Tuesday. Where would you say Israeli politics stand on cannabis ahead of the election? And where do you think cannabis is headed?

Kaye: Well, there have been some promises made. But cannabis isn’t at the forefront of Israel’s political agenda. Obviously, security will always take precedence around there. But we’ve got a lot of people suffering from PTSD and we live in a very stressful society. So I’m really looking forward to seeing some change and seeing legalization register. I don’t think I’m willing to predict that yet. 

They haven’t allowed export. There’s a lot of money that’s flowing into the country to develop the cannabis infrastructure in order to export and lead the way in the world. The government hasn’t come through on that regulation. Patients haven’t gotten access. So, I think it could become a very crucial theme in the next election. 

Martin: And what are your thoughts on the degree to which politics in the United States are playing a role in the global cannabis industry, and in Israel’s cannabis industry?

Kaye: It has a huge effect. I think everyone’s waiting to see what happens. It’s still federally illegal in the United States, obviously impeding banking. We can do banking in Israel, but we can’t do international trade. Geo-fencing of cannabis is very, very complicated. It will allow local economies to flourish around cannabis. But everyone’s looking towards the U.S until there is a clear policy in the U.S. And there still isn’t even a clear policy around hemp and CBD. You federalized hemp and you didn’t allow the banking of hemp.  

So until we start seeing some guidance, I think we’re going to wait and see. You know we saw some movement after Canada, another G-7 country that legalized. But I think we’re going to be waiting to see what Mr. Trump is going to do. 

Martin: What would it mean for the global cannabis industry if President Trump is elected again?

Kaye: I think if he was to take a position of it being a legacy to legalize cannabis, which he might do, the implications worldwide would be a global release of cannabis, not only on the medical but on the recreational level, on the banking level, on insurance, total global de-stigmatization. And America could lead that. And I don’t think there are many other countries in the world that could do that, that have the influence. If Australia said, “Oh, we’re going to go and legalize cannabis,” it wouldn’t have the effect that if the U.S. did that. So I think it’s very, very important that the U.S. moves in the right direction. And it is. But, you know, global change takes time.

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