Should Cannabis Industry Professionals Go on a “Birthright” to Israel?
It may sound strange but I want to pose the question: Should we, as cannabis professionals, go on a birthright trip to Israel?
The tiny country is home to the most advanced cannabis research in the world. In fact, Israeli scientist Dr. Raphael Mechoulam was the first person to isolate THC, back in 1964. Since then, Mechoulam and his colleagues have pioneered the field of cannabis science, making strides in the study of the cannabis plant, the endocannabinoid system, and the myriad conditions that could be helped with medical marijuana.
So while “birthright” in popular culture often refers to the free trip offered to Jewish young adults who might be curious about the Holy Land, in broader terms, a “birthright” is defined as a particular right of possession or privilege one has from birth, or a natural or moral right, possessed by everyone. So I’d like to take the concept of a birthright trip to Israel and apply it to cannabis.
Of course, Israel isn’t the only destination for cannabis professionals. Take Amsterdam, for instance, one of the first places to quasi legalize cannabis and allow for public consumption. You’ll be hard pressed to find someone in the industry who hasn’t taken this trip to Amsterdam. I also think of the Emerald Triangle in northern California — the area in which some of the finest cannabis in the world has been cultivated and where some of the greatest pioneers in the American cannabis industry have resided for decades.
One could say that in order to better understand cannabis, industry professionals should go on all these birthrights, as it is a natural obligation.
So to that end, I began my cannabis birthright tour with Israel. Not only has cannabis research in Israel flourished since the 60s, but medical cannabis has also been federally legal there since the 90s. As of this year, adult use has also been decriminalized across the nation up to a certain possession limit.
My employer, the America Israel Cannabis Association (AICA), led a trip to Israel that, naturally, I dubbed a cannabis birthright trip. AICA’s mission is to foster collaboration between North American and Israeli cannabis companies and professionals. So what better way to foster collaboration than to bring North Americans on a tour of Israel? We assembled a crew of investors, lawyers, consultants, and entrepreneurs to join us for our three-day tour.
Our first stop was with cannabis cultivation company BOL Pharma. Located in the southern Israeli town of Revadim, the company has executed dozens of clinical trials, operates 377,000 square feet of greenhouses, and manufacturers GMP-certified cannabis products in 65,000-square foot facility, where they process dried flower and tinctures.
After meeting their team, we were famished, and went to a moshav about an hour away to make our own lunch. A moshav is a cooperative, agricultural community, similar to a kibbutz, as I understand it, but without everyone sharing everything. Our host there taught us how to make our own focaccia bread and we cooked our own pizzas. We drank wine that was grown by their neighbors and prepared food that was grown in their garden. It was a very different experience than what I’ve grown used to in Denver — despite being a pretty friendly person, I couldn’t tell you a single thing about my neighbors nor could I tell you the last time I hosted a group for dinner in my tiny apartment. Even more so, it allowed us some time to get to know each other. Our tour group consisted of professionals with a variety of backgrounds, from a Canadian investor who is banned from the United States because of his cannabis investments to a cannabis lawyer from South Carolina. All of us came together on this tour to learn more about cannabis, Israel, and the intersection between the two.
We ended the first day with a hike through some ancient pagan burial grounds, which served as a reminder that many civilizations have occupied this land in years past. Then I took a much-needed nap on the bus ride back to Tel Aviv.
The second day of our tour was jam packed with a trip to the Eybna headquarters in Raanana, the town of Cesaria, and the Tishbi Estate winery. With a focus on terpenes, or aromatic compounds found in cannabis and other plants, Eybna offers a selection of plant-derived terpenes that cannabis companies can add into their formulations in order to enhance or shift the consumer experience.
Due to security regulations, we couldn’t see the lab, but we were able to see their main office. Like many startups, Eybna is a lean operation and their office reflected their startup nature. With a few white desks, the focus of the office was on the terpenes that they extract and research; they were hanging on the wall, sitting on shelves.
Afterward, we took a tour of Cesaria, a beach town that was originally established in Roman times. We saw the bath houses of ancient days and even crashed a wedding on the beach. But it wouldn’t have been a full day without a late lunch with fresh food and wine at the Tishbi Estate winery.
Our final day was as full as the others since a trip to Israel isn’t complete without visiting the Dead Sea and Jerusalem. The Dead Sea was a comical experience, as we floated and applied mud onto our skin. The Dead Sea gets its name for the lack of sea life in the water due to a massive amount of salt — so much salt that even as adults, we had to hear the rules. No swimming, no splashing, no dunking your head underwater. While people are naturally buoyant, the salt boosts our buoyancy. You couldn’t sink if you tried! After our “spa session” floating in the salty sea, we had to have a drink at the “Lowest Bar in the World.” The bar is 420 meters below sea level. (For comparison, Denver, the Mile High City, is about 1560 meters above sea level.)