News about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s sudden decision to stop the country’s cannabis export program broke last week. And there are reports that the reason behind his decision is none other than United States President Donald Trump.
It can be recalled that Israel, which is a pioneer in cannabis research, development, and biotechnology, has been planning to start exporting medical cannabis to the U.S. and other countries. This cannabis export program is expected to bring the Israeli economy up to $1.14 billion a year.
However, according to various media reports, Netanyahu froze the plan for fear of upsetting Trump. Netanyahu reportedly told heads of the ministries that he ordered a freeze on the cannabis export program after he received a call from Trump. Trump is vocal against the legalization of cannabis in the U.S.
Israel should “not miss the train.” – Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked
The Israeli prime minister stated that he did not want the country to be a pioneer in medical cannabis export if it meant drawing the ire of the American president. Netanyahu’s decision came even despite the export program gaining the support of Israel’s Health, Finance, and Agriculture ministries.
What does the freeze really entail?
Netanyahu’s freeze means that reforms aimed at permitting Israeli cannabis cultivators to export their product have been suspended. This suspension takes effect pending new policy reviews by the chairman of the National Economic Council and by the Health Ministry.
Netanyahu instructed NEC Chairman Avi Simhon to conduct a new economic feasibility study, while the Health Ministry is ordered to prepare a separate review.
The country’s exportation program was approved in August 2017 by the Ministries of Health and Finance.
Currently, around 50 medical cannabis companies in Israel are cultivating cannabis plants and coming up with delivery devices for medical cannabis. Additionally, kibbutzes in the country see the medical cannabis export program as one way for them to revitalize their communities.
“Going against the Trump administration’s policy wouldn’t serve Israel’s interests.” – Israeli PM Netanyahu
Heads of Israeli ministries criticize PM’s move
Other Israeli ministers, meanwhile, have spoken against Netanyahu’s decision. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, for instance, expressed her belief that Israel should “not miss the train” and take advantage of the export opportunity. She said that while they are the “locomotive” today, they will soon become the trailers if they hesitate.
Shaked is positive, though, that when they sit with Netanyahu and lay out all the details for him, the correct decision will win over.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel said that in a few days, there is going to be a government-level discussion on Israel’s medical cannabis industry. Ariel and Shaked had recently visited a medical cannabis farm north of the country.
Ariel had pointed out that there is a potential for Israel to gain billions of dollars, and the rest of the world will also gain from this.
“Netanyahu’s decision to halt exports is a destructive move that stems from fear and ignorance.” – Knesset Committee on Drug Abuse MK Tamar Zandberg
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency also wrote that a representative of the Finance Ministry had suggested that the country merely avoid exporting to the U.S. to appease Trump. But Netanyahu responded that going against the policy of the Trump administration would not be in Israel’s best interests.
Additionally, a Haaretz article cited Knesset Member Tamar Zandberg of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) Committee on Drug Abuse as contending that officials are going to regret their decision to stop Israel’s significant progress. Their decision, she explained, will erase the country’s competitive advantage in the medical cannabis market, which is now breaking ground worldwide.
Zandberg further argued that Netanyahu’s decision to halt exports is a destructive move that stems from fear and ignorance.
Hagit Weinstock, a lawyer who works with both international investors and Israeli cannabis farmers, also condemned Netanyahu’s move. The Haaretz article also quoted her as saying that the prime minister passed up on four billion shekels annually that could help improve the lives of citizens, ease the struggle of those who are disabled, ease the distress of farmers, and ease hospitals of their burden.