Medical Cannabis: Israel Sets A High Bar - The US Must Follow
The FDA and Congress’ failure to prioritize medical cannabis research and reform has left the United States behind. While countries like Canada and Uruguay have fully legalized the plant in both recreational and medical capacities, other nations like Israel and Germany have found a middle-ground and enacted legislation to spearhead medical studies while delaying recreational legalization until social impact studies are completed. Israel has contributed immensely to scientific research on cannabis and is even poised to become a global leader in medical cannabis exports. American lawmakers and the FDA should look to countries such as Canada and Israel for simple and innovative solutions for cannabis reform.
America Is Decades Behind
Canada has proven itself as a success showing the rest of the world what effective cannabis legislation reform looks like. Not only is it the first major economy to legalize recreational marijuana, but within a year of passing the Cannabis Act, it continues to enact laws that balance medical, social and economic interests. Ottawa is set to amend the Cannabis Act to now include edible cannabis, cannabis extracts, and cannabis topicals (skin applications), building upon what was already a robust legalization process. The country provides the United States, and the world, with a pre-existing economic, scientific, and political platform for the easy adoption of cannabis legislation reform. Indeed, Canada has already undergone the hard work for the rest of us to copy and paste.
However, things south of the border are moving far slower, with the FDA only having just begun scientific research into cannabis a few years after it claimed it would. Yet as Washington drags its feet, individual states are taking the lead to independently legalize the plant, whether for medical or recreational use. Illinois, for instance, the latest state to get into the legalization bandwagon, has expressed its intentions to legalize both the possession and regulated commercial sale of marijuana next year.
Thirty-three states have legalized medical marijuana and eleven permit recreational use. Seventeen others have legislation permitting the use and sale of CBD. It is increasingly clear that Americans approve of cannabis use, yet the FDA appears to make little effort advancing scientific research mandates to study the medical properties of the plant.
Late to the table
The FDA held a hearing on May 31 where they received scientific data and information on the "safety, manufacturing, product quality, marketing, labeling, and sale of products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds." Selected applicants from the medical cannabis sector presented information to the FDA relevant to the agency’s decision on what medical marijuana products and derivatives to permit for sale.
While this inquiry may seem like progress, it comes many years too late and does not establish any formal guidelines or precedents. The agency claims that, while it understands there has been an increased public interest in cannabis products, it remains committed to the many "unanswered questions" about the science, safety, and quality of cannabis products as part of their commitment to their mission of "protecting and promoting public health."
The FDA seemingly also fails to accept the evolution and development of the medical cannabis industry in line with its mandate to maintain strong public health standards. Americans, especially users of cannabis products to treat symptoms of chronic illnesses and diseases, are left wondering what is taking so long.
The FDA and lawmakers could learn a thing or two from Canada about embracing change and progress rather than consistently rejecting it for fear of backlash. Canada's transparent process has allowed the country to enter a booming industry with significant medical and economic potential.
Canada succeeded in its transition by placing the safety of its citizens as paramount to any change. Their Cannabis Act centered on "keeping cannabis out of the hands of youth" while keeping "profits out of the pockets of criminals" all while protecting its "public health and safety by allowing adults access to legal cannabis." Canadian legislation effectively distinguishes the needs of adults to take cannabis to treat certain ailments, with the harmful escapist use by teenagers. The U.S. can easily replicate this model at the federal level.
Canada continues its measures to ensure the safety of its citizens even as it continues to evolve its cannabis reform. Recently, Bill Blair, Canadian Minister of Border Security and pioneer behind Canada's Cannabis Act, announced there could be a delay in seeing edible marijuana products for sale while it continues to work on final regulations of products. "It's a complex area with a greater risk, because of the way in which it's consumed. We said we're going to take the time to do it right,” he said, highlighting Canada’s deep care and diligence as it undergoes its reform processes.
Canada is carefully considering each and every expansion of its legalization efforts in order to balance the essential needs of its citizens with the government's duty to protect those prone to abuse. The FDA, on the other hand, continues to move slowly by failing to approve important CBD and cannabis products while congress drags its feet and perpetuates the black market for cannabis.
Israel: Establishing The Regulatory Middle Ground
If the idea of legalizing cannabis for recreational use is too much, federal authorities could at least facilitate its medical and scientific development. That's basically what Israel's approach has been, much to its economic and scientific benefit. Israel’s cannabis R&D and innovation initiatives can serve as examples to the United States and others as a nation that adequately reconciles conservative social attitudes with scientific and medical necessity.
Recreational marijuana is still illegal in Israel, albeit decriminalized. That said, the country has invested millions into cannabis research, with hundreds of companies and solutions already inventing and producing advanced solutions for the use and consumption of medical cannabis. Israel now exports medical marijuana following their Parliament’s approval of a bill in January of this year.
In what former PM Ehud Barak deemed the "land of milk, honey, and cannabis," Israel has positioned itself among the world’s medical cannabis leaders. Israel’s robust medical solutions derived from decades of cannabis research has allowed the country to develop cannabis medications engineered to help treat specific ailments and diseases like Crohn's disease, Parkinson’s and even autism. The country is, in turn, establishing for itself a valuable economic sector as the exporting of medical cannabis is estimated to bring in some $273 million in tax revenues a year.
Betting on Legalization
Ontario's Canopy Growth recently announced that its shareholders approved a deal to acquire the United States' Acreage Holdings, a deal tentatively worth $3.4 billion and conditional upon U.S. full-scale federal legalization. The agreement demonstrates that cannabis producers are exceptionally confident that Washington will one day pass cannabis reforms, despite its hesitations. Indeed, both sides of the political aisle are now finding common ground here and supporting federal legalization efforts.
Canadian CBD companies are already operating freely in the U.S. in accordance with reforms enacted in the FARMS Act 2018 that effectively permit CBD products in certain forms nation-wide. Toronto-based Abacus Health Products, the maker of CBDMEDIC offers a line of natural topical medications in the form of ointments and creams using hemp extract and other over-the-counter approved ingredients. Their products can treat joint and muscle pain, arthritis, and address skin conditions like acne and eczema. The Canadian company has expanded into over 2000 pharmacies the United States – proof that effective and non-addictive cannabinoids can integrate into the mainstream economy thanks to proper regulatory reform.
“The ability of Abacus to develop and launch new pipeline products such as our new skincare and treatment line is a reflection of our pharmaceutical heritage and capabilities and a testament to over a decade of research and investment in formulation optimization,” said Abacus CEO, Perry Antelman.
The FARMS Act is a lesson in how cannabis legislation will successfully operate. Indeed, it has cleared the way for hemp (and thus CBD) production and sale under regulated circumstances. Cannabis reform can function is a similar manner.
It is clear that American federal authorities have failed to adequately address the needs of the country’s health. While the majority of Americans support cannabis legalization reforms, and many cannabis companies are even betting on such reforms, Washington is moving at glacial speeds. Consequently, the country misses out on economic and health advances as it effectively delays the inevitable. If congress and the FDA look internationally to Canada and Israel, they will find an existing blueprint from which to base federal cannabis reform. Progress is CBD reform is promising but it is not sufficient. The longer the FDA and Congress drag their feet, the longer U.S. citizens forfeit medical cannabis’ benefits.
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