More and more countries have been loosening their policies when it comes to the non-psychoactive component of cannabis – CBD (cannabidiol). With a new amendment waiting for final approval, Israel says CBD is not dangerous, and is expected next week to remove it from its Dangerous Drugs Ordinance.
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When it comes to cannabis, Israel is not the most lax country when it comes to regulation. However, this undermines the fact that Israel is about the most far ahead when it comes to medical research concerning cannabis. With the help of Raphael Mechoulam, whose work was roundly ignored for decades, and who in the more recent environment of cannabis acceptance has now been lauded for his work, Israel has been the world leader in cannabis research. This did not stop the drug from being completely illegal recreationally, with no personal use laws until only the last couple years. Now, in a move that shows its ready to play catch-up for real, Israel not only is discussing plans for a recreational legalization, but is set to remove CBD from its list of dangerous drugs, with the expectation that CBD products will soon be lining supermarket shelves.
Current Israeli cannabis laws
Israel only instituted a decriminalization policy for cannabis in 2019, which affords personal use rights for small amounts in the home. The term ‘small amounts’ was defined by the Anti-Drug Authority as 15 grams. Public use and possession still results in a fine of 1000 NIS, or $307 (by today’s conversion), though this is a vast improvement from what it was before, when offenders could be required to pay as much as 226,000 NIS, or $69,479 (by today’s conversion). The 1000 NIS is just for a first offense, and doubles with the second offence, and turns into a criminal act on the third. This comes with the loss of a drivers’ license and/or gun as well. Minors under the age of 18 who reject a treatment program when caught, can still be subjected to jail time.
Like pretty much anywhere in the world, selling and supply crimes are illegal, and offenders can find themselves with 20-year prison sentences. This can be increased to 25 years in the case of extenuating circumstances, like selling to a minor. Cultivation is technically illegal, but also seems to fall into gray area. According to the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance, growing can carry up to 20 years. In 2017, the publication Cannabis made public that there had been an order issued which stated that growing small amounts for personal use would only be seen as a minor violation. This was meant to be a way to separate large-scale, and small-scale growers. However, this order was obviously never meant to be public, and when Cannabis put out the news, the response from law enforcement was that no change had legally been made.
When it comes to medical, Israel legalized medicinal use in 1999, this coming 3-4 decades after the initial release of groundbreaking studies into the medical attributes of cannabis. First it was limited to terminal patients with cancer or AIDS, until the law was updated in 2007 by the Israeli Ministry of Health, which broadened the scope of the program to allow more ailments to be treated with cannabis. In 2019, a bill was introduced to allow the exportation of medical cannabis internationally.
So, what’s the deal with CBD?
While it almost seemed like CBD was going to get an international pass when the UN recently voted on cannabis rescheduling measures, the result was only a removal of cannabis from schedule IV, with no further clarification on CBD. Even so, Israel is treating it as if that clarification was made, saying CBD is not dangerous, and does not need to be treated like it is.
In 2016 it was first brought up in Israel’s Knesset to remove CBD from Israel’s list of dangerous drugs, where it has been since 1973. Notice how this article is being written now and not in 2016, as it is only just now up for removal in 2020. While plenty of CBD products are sold in Israel, this removal would open up use even further. In August of this year, the Minister of Health approved the removal of CBD from the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance. Next week, the Knesset Health Committee is expected to give the final approval for this to go into effect. Assuming this happens, regulation of CBD will then fall under the Ministry of Health’s Medical Cannabis Unit. The Ministry of Health had been investigating the idea of removing CBD for years, with Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kish working to accelerate the pace to move things forward. Kish has been working on this for quite some time, along with bringing down the price of medical cannabis in Israel.
Once CBD is officially removed, it means the compound can be added to any number of regular products found on supermarket shelves including toothpaste, chocolate bars, beauty products, supplements, and almost anything else that the compound can be squeezed into. In fact, any cosmetic or food produce will be able to contain CBD, so long as the THC content is .3% or lower – which is more in-line with US standards than European standards, even though Europe is Israel’s biggest export market target. The EU, of course, is in its own quest to possibly raise the approved THC content allowable in products to .3% as well. The final wording of the amendment defines cannabis as the entire cannabis plant, including roots, but excluding oil extracted from seeds, or finished products with a THC content not exceeding .3%.
Another thing to understand about this amendment is that it’s not all about CBD. It includes every cannabinoid that’s not THC, so long as the product or preparation still adheres to the no more than .3% THC policy. This means that other psychoactive cannabinoids like CBN (cannabinol), will also be able to be freely used. THC would remain the only compound listed in the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance, meaning that according to Israel, CBD is not dangerous, and neither are other non-THC cannabinoids.
It should always be remembered when reading a story like this, that the final approval has not actually been made. Next week, when the Knesset Health Committee gets together, it will discuss the issue. If it agrees that CBD is not dangerous, then it can officially make the approval of the amendment. So, while it does seem like Israel is taking a straight shot to making this happen, it’s not a done deal, and technically, doesn’t have to be. Interested parties should keep a watch on the news (and this site) to find out the outcome next week.
What does this mean for Israel?
According to consulting firm Deloitte Israel in a report from September 2019, the Israeli market for CBD, including cosmetics, dietary supplements, and food and beverages, stands to be worth $300-475 million within the next five years. The estimation is that Israel will be able to attain and hold about 1.5% of the total global CBD market share by 2025, which should be approximately $30 billion by that time. The industry is also expected to open up about 8,000 new jobs for Israelis.
By 2025 it’s expected that cannabis cosmetics will account for about 15% of all cosmetic sales globally. By 2026, its expected that nutritional supplements containing CBD will generate $345 billion in just the US, with Israel seeing approximately $120-150 million in revenue accordingly from that time period, in that field. In terms of foods and beverages containing CBD, its expected that in five years from the start of the policy, that the market will bring in $18-36 billion a year for Israel.
Right now, Europe is Israel’s biggest export country target, and by the end of this year, Europe is expected to have approximately €8.3 billion in revenue from CBD product sales. This is expected to increase to about €13.6 billion a year by 2025. The largest market within Europe for CBD sales is Germany, which is expected to bring in €1.8 billion in sales by the end of the year. The UK (though not a part of the EU anymore) is the second biggest market in the region, and is expected to bring in €1.7 billion in CBD product sales by the end of this year. While its totally possible for some of these numbers to be off (in fact, I guarantee you, they will be), they do show the basic parameters of what can be attained in these industries, what can be expected as far as growth, and the potential of a country like Israel to pull in a huge chunk of the action.
One last note on Israeli cannabis reform. The country may actually be starting to lay the foundations for recreational legalization, potentially within a year, with Canada as the basic model for regulating an adult-use market.
For a country with more cannabis research, knowledge, and expertise than any other place in the world, it’s about time for Israel to be a bit more forward thinking. Luckily, the last few years have shown that Israel can not only play catch-up in terms of regulation and legalization, but is still capable of essentially dominating the field.
It should also be noted, that the amendment that will remove CBD – and all other non-THC cannabinoids – from the list of dangerous drugs, will also lower the price of cannabis medicines by as much as 50%, and make it far easier for doctors to issue prescriptions to patients for cannabis medications.
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