Israel’s new cash crop


The kibbutz was one of modern Zionism’s first institutions. In the early 20th century, young Jews flocked to these communal settlements where they put in hard manual labor to make the land fit for agriculture. But over the decades, as Israel and her economy grew and the country’s chief exports shifted from fruit and flowers to high tech, more and more kibbutz residents left their socialist worlds for other jobs. No longer the growth engine for the state, or the vanguard of Israel’s society or economy, the kibbutzim were sidelined.

That is not a new story. What is new, however, is the reblossoming of many kibbutzim that have found a new purpose — a cash crop that takes the land and transforms it for the contemporary world: cannabis. According to a recent report in The Washington Post, dozens of kibbutz communities founded by early Zionist pioneers have entered the cannabis industry.

Medical cannabis is legal in Israel and is used for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, epilepsy and a wide variety of other medical needs. Two years ago, Israel authorized the export of cannabis. And the Israeli Innovation Authority is planning to launch a cannabis incubator. Israel expects the burgeoning cannabis industry to result in billions of dollars for the Jewish state as well as hundreds of new jobs.

Medical cannabis’ potential is significant, and its impact goes well beyond money. Research in cannabis offers hope to suffering patients around the world. According to Mayo Clinic, cannabis as prescription medicine is used to treat severe epilepsy, nausea caused by cancer chemotherapy and AIDS-related weight loss. And medical cannabis may also be useful in treating chronic pain and symptoms of multiple sclerosis, according to the National Institutes of Health. Israel has long been at the forefront of cannabis research. Hebrew University professor Raphael Mechoulam, the first to isolate some of its active ingredients, is considered the grandfather of cannabis research. That work is another way in which Israel has been an incubator of medicine and technology for the Western world.

Kibbutzim offer a unique opportunity for Israel to continue to expand its role in the cannabis industry, while the cannabis industry breathes new life into one of the country’s historic institutions. Kibbutzim have large tracts of land to grow product, and have access to the capital needed to fund the effort. High-profile Israelis, like former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, have also gotten involved. Barak, who chairs the Intercure marijuana farm in Nir Oz in the Negev, is part of a growing group of former politicians and others who are joining the boards of cannabis companies and using their influence to build the industry.

Israel’s embrace of the cannabis industry blends together the old values represented by the communal farm with Israel’s new values of innovation and cutting-edge technology. Continued growth can help keep kibbutzim relevant, bring new jobs and allow Israel to offer medical advancements to the whole world. It’s a win-win-win situation.

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