Already a pioneer in high-tech and cutting-edge agriculture, Israel is attracting American companies that wish to bring medical marijuana expertise to a booming market in the States.
Since 2014, US firms have invested about $50 million in licensing Israeli medical marijuana patents, cannabis agro-tech startups and firms developing delivery devices such as inhalers, said Saul Kaye, CEO of iCAN, a private cannabis research hub.
At iCAN’s CannaTech conference in Tel Aviv this month, one of the largest gatherings of medical marijuana experts, Kay said: “I expect it to grow to $100 million in the coming year.”
Scientists say that strict rules, some set by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), limit studies on cannabis in the United States, where the legal marijuana market is valued at $5.7 billion and expected to grow to $23 billion by 2020.
U.S. psychiatrist Suzanne Sisley said: “In the United States it’s easier to study heroin than marijuana.” She researched the effects of cannabis as a treatment for American military veterans suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“With marijuana you have to go through added layers of government red tape. It highlights the way marijuana research is being shackled by politics,” said Sisley, Director of Medicinal Plant Research at Heliospectra.
While scientific exploration may be restricted, 23 states now permit medical cannabis, while recreational use is allowed in four states and Washington D.C. Despite all this, at federal level, marijuana is still classified as a dangerous narcotic with no medicinal value.
In Israel, marijuana is an illegal drug and only 23,000 people have Health Ministry permits to purchase medical cannabis from nine licensed suppliers, creating a market of roughly $15 million to $20 million at most.
However, Israeli authorities are liberal when it comes to research. Growers work with scientific institutions in clinical trials and the development of strains that treat a variety of illnesses and disorders.
Israeli Health Minister Yakov Litzman, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, supports medical cannabis usage and has introduced steps to ease its prescription and sale.
Israel is far from being the only country in the market, however. Britain’s GW Pharmaceuticals is licensed to grow cannabis for medicine and in 2013 opted for a dual listing on NASDAQ, where it raised nearly $500 million from U.S. investors.
This month, GW announced its cannabis-based medicine Epidiolex had successfully treated children with a rare form of epilepsy. Its share price doubled as a result.
Medical cannabis is developing at a fast pace. Patients can smoke marijuana cigarettes, use inhalers,ingest oil extracts or even consume various edibles containing marijuana extracts. GW also has a multiple sclerosis treatment which is sprayed under the tongue.