Israel decriminalizes marijuana: Interview with industry-leading strain certification and anti-pesticide verification firm
Earlier this month, Israel officially decriminalized marijuana with first-time marijuana offenders being fined NIS 1,000 ($271), but no face criminal charges. The fine doubles on the second offense, and the third offense leads to probation. Only on the fourth offense will criminal charges be pressed.
Alan Hirsch, who launched his cannabis safety initiative Certify It Now, today, believes that decriminalizing marijuana is the necessary first step towards legalization. However, Hirsch suggests taxing and regulating the products like alcohol or tobacco to ensure that they stay safe for consumption. Even though there are currently standards, laws, and regulations, such as mandated testing, the cannabis industry, just like food, needs certification and verification from accredited third parties.
“Israel maintains the highest and best-in-class standards set by the Israel Medical Cannabis Authority, and through regulation and compliance will ensure a safe product,” says Hirsch.
Hirsch suggests that rather than adopting a one-size-fits all approach, Israel would be best-served utilizing parts that work most favorably in each jurisdiction, much like in the US. For example, in the US, Colorado does not allow public usage, Las Vegas permits visitors with bona fide medical cards from other states to purchase cannabis, and California has approved medical cannabis usage since 1996 with vague terminology that spans from common ailments to serious diseases. The reason for California’s legalization is due to consumer demand and the expansive black market. Israel seems to be heading towards legalization for similar reasons.
“Israel has a medical system already, so it will be interesting to see how the two distribution systems will evolve, and how the adoption takes place,” says Hirsch.
Hirsch predicts that the cannabis industry will continue to grow and that it will be common to see world-wide import and export in almost every country. He says that the industry will most likely follow three paths: medical cannabis derived for specific diseases (possibly reimbursed by health insurance), cannabis for therapeutic use (natural cures to assist with sleep, pain, nausea and skin ailments, etc.), and recreational cannabis. Currently projections show a worldwide potential in the next four to five years at $37 billion USD. In ten years this could triple.
“The economic impact will be positive for Israel since cannabis is an industry, and here to stay,” says Hirsch.
Other countries will likely follow Israel’s lead, since Israel is considered a market leader. Several countries are in the process of passing new laws or modifying existing laws to address the overwhelming demand from its citizens. Right now, 23 countries have some form of legal cannabis. This is only the beginning of a fully robust global industry.
Hirsch says that cannabis, in small amounts and with moderate use, is generally safe, even over extended periods. Rather, it is the act of smoking that is problematic and potentially leads to health issues. This is why the trend in the States is leading more towards edibles, tinctures, drinks, candies or topicals. Currently, the approximate breakdown is 80% smoking and vaping and 20% other methods of consumption. However, industry trends indicate that within five to eight years this could be reversed, with nearly 80% of sales coming from non-smoking use.
Most reactions or side effects from cannabis are due to impurities or chemicals such as pesticides or tainted fertilizer, not the cannabis itself. These impurities can lead to symptoms such as headache, tachycardia and nausea. The likelihood of complications increases for individuals taking other medicines that could interact with the impurities.
Hirsch’s new company, Certify It Now, certifies and verifies marijuana to reduce potential impurities. The company specializes in verifying where cannabis is from, and certifying that products are clean and pesticide-free. It oversees the supply chain from grower to customer, also known as seed-to-sale. Now that cannabis is legal in Israel, Certify It Now is more relevant than ever. Even in the states, cannabis has become an open discussion. It has evolved from an underground act of rebellion to a widely spread phenomenon. Therefore, it is important to ensure that cannabis recipients are not negatively affected by unclean, uncertified weed.
Hirsch recently founded DLC (Diagnostic Lab Corporation), a cannabis safety company with roots in food safety and science. As cannabis moves into the regulated marketplace, it will be subject to the same oversight that now governs all food and agriculture. The Certify It Now portal is a first, entry-level step to address third-party oversight that will allow consumers to know what they are purchasing. DLC utilizes programs and schemes that range from entry-level verification and certifications to Origin and Strain. All data and information are registered online, processed and verified, and inspected. Certify It Now also certifies for pesticides that require more compliance, and performs site inspections. They also perform compliance inspections and safety audits for regulators, governments, and insurance providers.
The verification and certification process can take up to a week or two, depending on the product and size of the facilities and operation. The certification is valid for a one-year period.
CertifyItNow.com is available in Israel (in English only) solely for entry-level Origin and Strain, since the company does not attest to any quality, potency or chemistry. It is in the process of complying with the existing guidelines of the IMCA, and planning to operate in Israel within six months.
In the meantime, the cannabis industry is expected to grow in Israel, as well as in the states. Hirsch is optimistic.
“Who knows,” says Hirsch, “one day in the near future, you could be strolling down Dizengoff Street and drop in at a coffee house and order more than a double decaf latte.”