Israel has halted a plan to export medical marijuana for fear of upsetting US President Donald Trump, a media report said, even as two senior ministers publicly toured a leading Israeli cannabis farm and valued the export market at more than US $1 billion annually.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the plan to be frozen early this week despite support from the Health, Agriculture, and Finance ministries, Hadashot news reported Wednesday.
Netanyahu told the heads of the ministries he ordered the freeze after receiving a call about the issue of exporting marijuana from Trump, who is against its legalization. The prime minister made it clear that he did not want Israel to be a pioneer in the export of medical marijuana in order not to anger the US president, according to the report. Canada is the only country that has approved the export of medical marijuana.
A Finance Ministry representative reportedly suggested that Israel could be avoiding export to the United States in order to appease Trump, leading Netanyahu to respond that would not necessarily serve Israeli interests to go against the Trump administration’s policy.
In a sign that not everyone was on board with his decision, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked accompanied Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel on a visit Thursday to the Seàch medical cannabis farm in the north of the country.
מה לי ולחוות קנאביס? סיירתי היום עם השר אורי אריאל בחוות "שיח" בשרון והתרשמתי מהחשיבות הקיימת לחולים רבים משימוש בקנאביס רפואי. ישראל יכולה להיות יצואנית קנאביס רפואי עם הכנסות של 4 מיליארד (!) שקל בשנה. אסור לפספס את הרכבת. אנחנו היום הקטר, אם נתמהמה נהפוך למאספים. pic.twitter.com/qxTzI0K1A9
— איילת שקד (@Ayelet__Shaked) February 8, 2018
In a series of social media posts, Shaked urged that Israel strive to develop medical marijuana exports soon to avoid missing an export opportunity.
“I was impressed by how important medical cannabis is to so many patients,” the minister wrote in a tweet. “Israel can become an exporter of medical cannabis with an income worth NIS 4 billion a year ($1.14 billion). We must not miss the train. Today we are the locomotive; if we hesitate, we will become the trailers.”
In a video posted to Shaked’s Facebook page Ariel said that there will be government-level discussion about medical cannabis industry production in ten days time.
“There is a potential here for billions of dollars that Israel will gain and the world will gain,” he said.
Shaked said they would seek to convince Netanyahu.
“I am sure that when we sit with the prime minister and we lay out for him all the details the correct decision will be taken,” Shaked said.
Shaked, speaking in the video, stressed that the medical cannabis should not be considered a narcotic but a medicine.
Writing on her Facebook page, Shaked also rejected concerns that the cannabis industry may exploited by criminals.
“The fear of leaks to crime organizations doesn’t fit with the fact that until now zero indictments were filed for theft and trade in the cannabis,” she wrote. “There are ways to secure the growing area as is done today. As long as we do this in a controlled and monitored manner there is no problem with it.”
A government committee had determined that the export of cannabis would bring between $285 million to $1.14 billion a year to the Israeli economy, according to the report.
An estimated 50 Israeli medical marijuana companies work in cultivating plants or producing delivery devices for the drug, according to Reuters.
Israeli kibbutzes see the export of medical marijuana as a way to revitalize their communities.