* Medical marijuana a growing global market
* Israel aims to export medical-grade cannabis
* Israeli cannabis firms attracting investors
By Maayan Lubell and Lianne Back
Tel Aviv, March 23 Israel, a leader in marijuana
research and health technology, is attracting international
investment as it tries to position itself as a cutting-edge
exporter in the rapidly-growing market for medical-grade
With estimates that the global market for medical marijuana
could reach $50 billion by 2025, the Israeli government is set
to allow the local industry to start exporting and projects
annual revenues in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Medical cannabis is a relatively new field with no
universal clinical standard. Israel aims to fill the void by
combining its expertise in agriculture, technology and
cannabis-based medicine, said Yuval Landschaft, head of the
health ministry's medical cannabis unit (IMCA).
"In the United States, for example, they use recreational
marijuana for medical use - that's like making chicken soup when
you have a cold," Landschaft told Reuters. "We're the ones
making the antibiotics."
The strategy is to create medical-grade cannabis with
quality and efficacy ensured along the entire supply chain from
cultivation to manufacture and distribution.
In contrast to the United States, which is currently the
biggest legal marijuana market, authorities in Israel are
liberal in their support of research and development.
Licensed marijuana growers work with scientific institutions
in clinical trials towards the development of cannabis strains
that treat a variety of illnesses and disorders.
There are about 120 studies ongoing in Israel, including
clinical trials looking at the effects of cannabis on autism,
epilepsy, psoriasis and tinnitus.
The health ministry wants to share its acquired knowledge
and train doctors from abroad. Talks are underway with
Australia, Germany, Brazil and others, Landschaft said.
The government gave the go-ahead in February to legislation
that would allow export.
More than 500 Israeli companies have applied for licenses to
grow, manufacture and export cannabis products, according to
government officials, and some are already capitalizing on the
booming U.S. market.
In the past year, U.S. and other firms have invested about
$100 million to license Israeli medical marijuana patents,
cannabis agro-tech startups and firms developing delivery
devices such as inhalers, said Saul Kaye, chief executive of
iCAN, a private cannabis research hub in Israel.
Kaye expects investment to grow ten-fold and reach $1
billion over the next two years.
Tikun Olam, Israel's largest grower, has partnered with U.S.
companies to cultivate marijuana in four U.S. states, chief
executive Aharon Lutzky said. Pending government approval, it
hopes to export to Europe and South America.
The biggest marijuana market for now is the United States,
with estimates that it will surpass $20 billion by 2020.
But importing cannabis to the United States is illegal under
federal law. The only way to get around the ban is to receive
approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Britain's GW Pharmaceuticals' Epidiolex - an experimental
cannabis-based drug to treat epilepsy - could be the first to
get the green light.
"The medical cannabis industry is much larger than the
U.S.," said Matthew Ginder, whose Florida-based law firm
represents cannabis businesses, including in Israel.
Growing acceptance of medical marijuana creates
opportunities in countries that have legalized medical marijuana
but have not developed the infrastructure, he said.
Canada, for instance, exports medical cannabis to Australia,
Croatia and Chile.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Tom Heneghan)