As the UK prepares to host its first-ever medical marijuana conference, one Israeli company is aiming to play a key role in the movement to decriminalise the drug in this country.
Britain is one of the only western countries in which cannabis use — even for medical purposes — is completely illegal, but Israeli entrepreneur Saul Kaye believes the country will lift the ban in some form “in the next 18 months”.
Mr Kaye, chief executive of iCAN:Israel-Cannabis, is the man behind the decision to bring the CannaTech conference to London next month.
Billed as “Britain’s first-ever international summit for accelerating cannabis innovation”, the event will feature scientists, entrepreneurs and regulators discussing medical uses of the drug.
Mr Kaye said the cannabis industry was “very Jewish”, estimating that Jews make up between 20 and 30 per cent of attendees at his conferences.
Israel is a world leader in cannabis research; medical use has been permitted since the early 1990s and in 2004 the Israeli military began using THC — the active ingredient in marijuana — for experimental treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Mr Kaye put this down to the “innovative culture” of the country, as well as the prevalence of investors who “aren’t afraid to take risks”.
He argues medical cannabis has already produced “remarkable results”, particularly with cancer patients and PTSD-sufferers.
He said: “It really has impacted many, many lives. When your grandma is recovering from chemotherapy for cancer, she will be a typical user.
“There is a really good set up in Israel. Innovation wise, we’re already there, leading the way. In Israel we don’t stop someone using a product if it’s helping them, even if it’s illegal.
“No one should be put in jail for owning a plant.”
Mr Kaye said medical marijuana has particular usefulness in treating “Ashkenazi diseases” such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease.
In the UK cannabis is categorised as a Class B drug, and it is illegal to possess, give away, sell, transport or grow for personal or commercial use.
Anyone found in possession of cannabis can face up to five years behind bars, as well as an unlimited fine. Supplying someone else with the drug can result in up to 14 years’ imprisonment.
Mr Kaye, whose company is based in Bet Shemesh, argued that one reason the UK is behind the rest of the world in cannabis legalisation is because of a reluctance to break from tradition.