After years of quiet progress, Israeli medical cannabis research is budding
Behind closed doors somewhere in the recesses of the Israeli government’s Agricultural Research Organization, Dr. Nirit Bernstein has been working for the past three years to perfect cannabis cultivation practices.
“It’s difficult to be a cannabis researcher. It’s much easier to be a tomato or citrus researcher,” she told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. “We are dealing with an illegal drug. Even though we are growing cannabis for medicinal purposes, it is still by definition an illegal drug.”
Bernstein, a senior research scientist at the Agricultural Research Organization’s Volcani Center, was Israel’s first scientist to acquire a research license from the Health Ministry’s Medical Cannabis Unit. Now, the Volcani Center, which operates under the broader umbrella of the Agriculture Ministry, is in the process of building a National Center for Research in Medical Cannabis.
Although an internal launch already took place this spring, the National Center, as well as the current and planned medical marijuana research at Volcani, was essentially secret until a few weeks ago; the organization only began to open up about the research after a June 26 government decision to regulate the medical cannabis sector.
“It was kept quiet for the sake of safety,” Bernstein said. “In my department, not everyone knows where the plants are. We haven’t advertised it because we want to be able to do the research in true keeping with the regulations and the law. We don’t advertise and flag it out as a gimmick.”
While a few scientists are already working within the framework of the National Center, the research will receive a new home in the shape of a NIS 2.5 million building that is slated to be complete by mid-2017, according to Prof. Itamar Glazer, deputy director for research and development at the Agricultural Research Organization.
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