Opinion

US Medical Cannabis Industry Lagging Behind the Likes of Canada and Israel

Lisa Rennie
Written by Lisa Rennie

The cannabis industry is set to make huge strides in our neighbor to the North, Canada, where marijuana will be legal across the nation on a federal level.

This has many proponents of medical cannabis wondering how much longer it will take for the medical cannabis program and laws in the US to keep up with trailblazers in the industry, like Canada and Israel.

Although an increasing number of states are adopting legislation that legalizes medical cannabis, many U.S. medical marijuana companies are planting roots in Israel where there are fewer obstacles to research, and therefore faster results.

Due to its legal status in the US, cannabis research is very difficult in the US because of limited funding. Cannabis is controlled more sternly than drugs like cocaine and methamphetamines and requires research approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

Such barriers do not exist in countries like Israel. For over five decades, Israel has become the hub of medical marijuana. In fact, it’s where the psychoactive compound THC was first discovered by Israeli chemist Raphael Mechoulam1. An unlikely participant in the cannabis industry, Israel is home to the most clinical trials that test out the benefits of medicinal marijuana. And because of this, the country has become the world’s center for medical cannabis research and development.

As of late, US medical marijuana companies are setting themselves up in Israel in an effort to continue researching and developing products without having to jump through the seemingly endless hoops that are thrown their way.

Many states in the US have their own medical cannabis programs, but marijuana still remains a federally-illegal substance, which hinders in-depth research on it. Although the FDA has approved a handful of pharmaceuticals that contain synthetic cannabinoids, products with naturally-grown cannabis have yet to be approved.

In 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice updated its marijuana enforcement policy with a statement that cited the fact that although marijuana remains illegal under federal law, it expected states that have legalized it to ensure strong enforcement on a state basis – such as how recommendations should be regulated, dispensing, and registering approved patients – and take it upon themselves to handle cannabis laws and activity. However, the department also has the right to challenge any state whenever it feels the need.

The FDA maintains the stance that further clinical trials on marijuana must continue to be conducted in order to fully understand and analyze the safety and efficacy of cannabis in a medical setting. But trying to start a clinical trial anywhere in the US has proven to be extremely difficult for researchers.

In the US, most states have some laws legalizing the use of medical marijuana, but the plant and its use is still illegal and classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act2 under federal law. As such, the distribution of cannabis is considered a federal offense, and funding for continued research remains a struggle.

The US is certainly not among the more advanced countries in terms of marijuana research with continued hurdles as a result of its federal status. In the meantime, American cannabis researchers will continue to take shortcuts by conducting initial phases of their clinical trials on more advanced nations like Israel.

  1. Mechoulam, R., et al, “Cannabinoids in health and disease“, Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 2007, Volume 9, pp. 413–430.

2. Drug Scheduling. (n.d.). Retrieved from “https://www.dea.gov/drug-scheduling

About the author

Lisa Rennie

Lisa Rennie

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