The Israel-California Cannabis Bond

Both Israel and California are leaders in medical cannabis, both programs can still be improved
August 4, 2016
The Israel-California Cannabis Bond (Enlarge)

Israel's medical cannabis program is narrow: Only 25,000 patients have government-issued "licenses" to use cannabis, for which they qualify after a difficult process of proving that several other pharmaceutical drugs have failed them. (To give some context: That's about 0.3 percent of Israel's population of 8 million. California has nearly 760,000 patients, accounting for 1.9 percent of its 40 million residents.) Israel's medical program is so small because the plant still has "the stigma of hashish," says S. David Moche, president of the America Israel Cannabis Association (AICA), which promotes dialogue between both countries.


Still, Israel is the only country where medical cannabis is integrated within the national health care system, says David Schacter, CEO of CannabiScope, which provides customizable "Weed Wheels" to help industry players classify different kinds of cannabis. "Clinical trials consist of patients consuming cannabis in hospitals and other treatment centers, under guided supervision and instruction."

Under supervision of the Ministry of Health, Israel enjoys a centralized, totally legal medical cannabis program. "California's, of course, is quite the opposite," says Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. Moreover, medical cannabis is provided to patients incarcerated in prison. That's something California can learn from, he adds.


Under Israel's program, eight companies grow and provide medicine to patients who register with them. Currently, cannabis is available out of one main hospital, but under new regulations, it will become available in pharmacies throughout the country. The cost of cannabis is fixed, and covered by insurance depending on the patient's plan.


"Everyone in the industry is looking toward California simply because of the size of the market. And if California legalizes [adult use of cannabis], I think that is going to influence the whole world," says Saul Kaye, CEO of Cannatech, an investment vehicle for the cannabis industry. But likewise, says AICA's Moche, "There's a real opportunity for growers, for anyone in the industry in the U.S. to look to some of [Israel's] great technological advances in agritech, genetics, medicine, and to collaborate."


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