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American cannabis seed export

First-ever export of Israeli medical cannabis seeds heads to US

Agriculture Ministry hails development as a major step toward country becoming a significant player in the global cannabis market

The first-ever export shipment of Israeli cannabis seeds has left for the US, the Agriculture Ministry said in a statement Wednesday, hailing the move as a major step toward becoming a global pioneer in the field.

Efforts to arrange the “experimental and initial” shipment, which departed on Tuesday night, have been ongoing for the past year.

The cargo contained seeds from the local BetterSeeds company, which has a research license from the Health Ministry.

They will be examined on arrival “to verify their suitability for the US market,” the ministry said.

“Israel has the ability to make its mark [on the industry] and be among the world’s leaders,” Agriculture Minister Oded Forer said in the statement.

“The export of cannabis seeds invites us to expand the diversity of Israeli agricultural exports and strengthens local agriculture,” Forer said. It also “exploits Israel’s relative advantage in an area that is still considered preliminary.”

If all goes well, “contacts will be held regarding the continuation of the export,” the ministry said. It “could lead to the opening of additional international markets for Israeli exports and significantly advance the medical cannabis industry in Israel.

“Increasing the range of exports and expanding it to cannabis products will enable the deepening of existing markets and penetration into new markets while riding on the growing wave of demand for cannabis products with medical-health value,” it added.

Last August the government amended its medical cannabis export rules to allow for the export of cannabis seeds. The change came after intensive pressure from companies in the cannabis industry.

A woman works in a lab at a high-tech cannabis products start-up at a technological incubator center in the town of Yeruham in the southern Negev desert on February 1, 2022. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)we

Touting Israel as a global expert in the research and development of the cannabis plant, the ministry noted that “contrary to popular belief, the cannabis industry in Israel has been active in the field of research for decades, but only in recent years has it gained momentum due to changes in Israeli policy.”

Israel’s medicinal cannabis market was valued at around $264 million in 2021, roughly $7 million less than the entirety of Europe’s, according to Prohibition Partners, an industry analysis firm.

However, Israel maintains tight restrictions on exports — particularly to major markets in Europe and North America. Israel exported a comparatively meager 663 kilograms (1,462 pounds) of cannabis last year, according to the Health Ministry.

Some lawmakers, such as New Hope MK Sharren Haskel, are working to pass legislation that will continue to loosen regulations they say would benefit both businesses and consumers.

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“The exported Israeli seeds could revolutionize the American cannabis growing process”

After almost a year since removing the ban on the export of Cannabis seeds, the first ever Israeli cannabis seeds have been shipped to a foreign country. Cannabis seeds from seed company BetterSeeds were shipped to the US. BetterSeeds specializes in the genetic improvement of agricultural crops by using precise and advanced cultivation of varieties and adapting them to future agricultural needs.

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On the right: BetterSeeds CEO Ido Margalit

Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development released a press release detailing that, after nearly a year of mediations, the first-ever shipment of cannabis seeds has left Israel and has been sent to a foreign country.

This historic step was enabled due to the intensive efforts of Better Seeds (formerly Canbreed’s) CEO, Ido Margalit, at the Medical Cannabis Seed Forum that resides at Israel’s Chamber of Commerce Association’s Seeds Division. The shipment comes as part of the implementation of government resolution no. 4490, which was updated in August 2021 to include the export of cannabis seeds from Israel. The move gives the Israeli medical cannabis industry a huge boost and is thought that it will lead to other international markets opening up to Israeli exports.

Israel is considered a leading global expert in cannabis research and development. In fact, contrary to public perception, cannabis research has been ongoing in Israel for many years but has been gaining momentum in recent years thanks to changes in Israeli government policy.

The historic shipment saw Israeli BetterSeeds’ own hemp (cannabis) seeds being sent to the USA. BetterSeeds, an AgTech company based in Israel, uses genome editing technology, including CRISPR to develop new breeds of plants.

The hemp seeds currently being shipped are a product of the BetterSeeds breeding program, authorized and conducted under a research license issued by the Medical Cannabis Unit in the Israeli Ministry of Health. The seeds are set to be tested and evaluated by commercial hemp growers to verify their suitability for the American market.

The Planting and Propagation Material Department in the Plant Protection and Inspection Services of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, together with the Medical Cannabis Unit in the Ministry of Health and other bodies, have lent their support to Israeli companies in order to advance the exportation of seeds. The shipment marks the first time such efforts are bearing fruit.

The opening of seed exports in the cannabis segment is expected to bolster Israel’s status as a center of knowledge and expertise in the seeds sector and of medicinal cannabis seeds in particular. The unprecedented Israeli export of cannabis seeds is expected to arouse interest from various researchers around the world and will further strengthen research within Israel itself.

Israel Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Oded Forer, stated: “The export of cannabis seeds is an opportunity to further diversify Israel’s agricultural exports, strengthening domestic agriculture while taking advantage of Israel’s relative advantage in this field, which is still regarded to be in its rudimentary phase. This being the case, Israel has the ability to make its mark and position itself among the world leaders. We must support the Israeli companies as they take their first steps in the global market.”

He added: “I am working to strengthen agricultural exports from Israel on all fronts. I have instructed my ministry to grant assistance that will strengthen the local agricultural sector and enable it to be competitive in the globalized world. At the same time, we are also opening agricultural attaché posts in several locations around the world.”

Meanwhile, Naama Kaufmann-Fass, Director General of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, vowed to strengthen Israeli trading ties. “As part of my work, with cooperation from the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr. Oded Forer, we are going to penetrate more and more markets. Reality compels us to strengthen our trading ties with other countries – for example, by opening agricultural attaché offices in other countries and also in the form of the current export of cannabis seeds. We hope this shipment will bring with it further commercial successes,” she said.

Commenting on the shipment, Omer Sela, the Seeds Division manager of the Israeli Chamber of Commerce, outlined the challenges facing the industry, “Cannabis seed companies face multiple significant challenges, starting from scientific R&D and coping with regulation – that until August 2021 prevented the possibility of exporting seeds and finding export markets and potential customers. We had the privilege to assist cannabis seed companies and help them overcome the regulatory export barrier. We will continue to stand by the cannabis seed companies in order to help them fulfill their promising potential, increasing the Israeli exports, GDP, and employment as well as strengthening the scientific and agricultural R&D in Israel.”

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The founder and CEO of BetterSeeds, Ido Margalit, said: “We are hopeful that this trial will generate positive results and impress the commercial farmers of hemp. I hope that once they are really impressed by the performance of our genetics, we will receive the orders. The exported seeds are unique and could revolutionize the American cannabis growing process and bring about the much-needed standardization. Our cannabis and hemp seeds are 100% stable and uniform. Most of the industry in the United States is based on vegetative cloning. They don’t use seeds in order to grow the plants, and they do vegetative reproductions from clones. Our seeds will change this”.

He added: “This export is an experimental shipment and a real achievement. It was not even possible for us to show to customers outside of Israel what we are doing because it was legally impossible to do so. BetterSeeds led the change of the law in Israel to enable the export of cannabis seeds.”

American Pot Is The Gold Standard. But Canada Leads The Export Game — For Now.

LivWell Enlightened Health meticulously documents and evaluates its cultivation techniques to refine the cannabis products it grows at its Denver warehouse. It is building facilities that can scale up production for interstate or international commerce if marijuana laws change. (Markian Hawryluk/KHN)

More From The Mountain States

DENVER — In a large warehouse, LivWell Enlightened Health feeds its cloned cannabis plants a custom blend of nutrients, sprays them with filtered water and pumps extra carbon dioxide into the air. LivWell releases three types of insects to clear the plants of unwanted pests without the use of toxic pesticides.

Every part of the growing process is meticulously documented and evaluated to constantly refine the process.

After 20 years of experience, legal marijuana growers in the U.S. have the reputation of creating the best product in the world, scientifically grown and tightly regulated for quality and safety.

The crop would be in high demand internationally — perhaps the centerpiece of a new U.S. industry — if not for the regulatory conundrum in which growers operate.

Because marijuana is legal in many states but still illegal federally, marijuana growers are unable to ship their products to other countries or even other American states that have legalized the drug. So while U.S. cannabis firms have driven product innovation and mastered the science of large-scale grow operations, they restlessly wait for the export curtain to lift.

Instead Canada has emerged as the dominant exporter in the burgeoning global trade of marijuana, which ArcView Market Research and BDS Analytics estimated at $14.9 billion in sales for 2019. Companies there are raising capital and building international trade ties despite having an unlikely climate to be an agricultural pot haven.

LivWell is building new grow rooms with 30- to 40-foot-high ceilings and state-of-the-art LED lighting that is cool enough to be placed very close to the plant. (Markian Hawryluk/KHN)

Rezwan Khan, vice president of global corporate development for cannabis seed supplier DNA Genetics, believes that U.S. cannabis is the world’s best but said: “Canada has a huge advantage, because they can fill a gap.”

Best In The World

Khan said California cannabis especially is superior because its growers have been developing legal marijuana products since 1996, longer than everywhere but Amsterdam.

“California has been the epicenter of cannabis culture for many years,” he said.

Its cannabis seeds have been distributed all over the world, and many foreign firms are trying to reproduce the quality of West Coast marijuana. But Khan said it takes more than seeds and water to grow good weed.

The genetics and sophistication underlying the U.S. cannabis industry lead to better-quality and higher-potency flowers for those who smoke marijuana and innovations in oils, tinctures and edibles.

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“The world wants that technology,” said Michael Sassano, CEO of Solaris Farms, the largest cannabis hybrid greenhouse in Nevada. “The Netherlands had a big jump; they could have done anything. But the U.S. is the one that turned the industry into what it is today, with all the products we make, not Canada.”

The other draw of American-grown cannabis, according to Denver-based cannabis law expert Bob Hoban, is that foreign customers value the regulatory oversight that ensures the product is safe and unadulterated.

“It’s being regulated by a government agency, which is not necessarily what’s happening around the rest of the world,” Hoban said.

Hampered Growth

Because federal law prohibits the sale and use of marijuana, growers have not had easy access to the banking system. LivWell had to pay cash for its HVAC system. And with sales limited to in-state retailers, it hasn’t been cost-effective to invest in much automation for its production line. Most of its processing and packaging is done by hand.

The patchwork of legalization means cannabis isn’t always grown where it’s easiest to grow, in warm climates with limited rainfall. It’s grown where it’s legal. California, Oregon and Colorado grow most of the country’s authorized marijuana as legally isolated islands.

That leaves cold Canada as a somewhat odd choice to be the world’s leader in marijuana exports.

When Canada legalized marijuana in 2018, its firms could be listed on the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ. So Canadian companies represent a back door for U.S. firms to access capital and export markets, and, for smaller firms, provide a potential exit strategy. Many U.S. marijuana growers are positioning themselves as attractive acquisition targets for Canadian firms eyeing the lucrative U.S. market.

Canadian firms are using their head start to sign trade deals and secure licenses to sell marijuana internationally. While the market remains limited, at least 30 countries — including Mexico, Germany and Italy — have legalized medical marijuana. And the numbers are growing as scientific studies have demonstrated its utility for pain control, nausea and glaucoma.

“There’s more than enough time for American companies to catch up,” said Kris Krane, president of 4Front Ventures, which grows and sells marijuana in nine states. “But the longer that we wait, the longer we continue to maintain this unsustainable prohibition, the more difficult it’s going to be for American companies to catch up.”

Ready To Export

Changing public sentiments about marijuana in the U.S. have many American cannabis firms readying for the day they can legally sell their products elsewhere.

“If the state borders do break open, we’re preparing for that,” said Sassano, who also is board chairman at Somai Pharmaceutical, a holding company based in Dublin that distributes medical cannabis products to pharmacies across Europe.

That means an industry that began mainly as small mom-and-pop growers and retailers must now consider its corporate hygiene and whether it’s meeting legal requirements to sell in these new markets.

LivWell is building large-scale indoor cannabis growing rooms in Colorado and Oregon designed to scale up production for interstate or international commerce. The new rooms have 30- to 40-foot-high ceilings and state-of-the-art LED lighting cool enough to sit close to the plants.

“Then you farm vertically,” said Dean Heizer, LivWell’s chief legal strategist. “We learned that from the microgreens that people are farming in old cities and in old skyscrapers. If you can cultivate in cubic meters, you can scale. If you’re cultivating in square feet, you can’t.”

With 11 states plus Washington, D.C., approving recreational use and 33 states legalizing medical marijuana, industry insiders believe marijuana may be legalized nationally in the near future, greatly expanding their market.

In November, the House Judiciary Committee passed a bill with more than 50 co-sponsors that would effectively make marijuana legal in the U.S. Though unlikely to pass Congress immediately, it is seen as a sign of hope for the future.

“It’s just a matter of time,” Krane said. “How much time is very much a question of debate.”