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Farber: Jews have a hand in growing marijuana business

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Marijuana plants
Marijuana plants (File photo)

Weed, pot, grass, dope, marijuana, cannabis. Whatever you call it, this plant has had a long and interesting history. And in a few short months, Canada will take the final step in the legalization process, making cannabis available recreationally across the nation, with its accessibility to be regulated by each province.

A Facebook friend explained to me that, in ancient Jewish folklore, pot actually had a presence in the sanctification process of both the high priests and the Tabernacle. We know, for example, that the oil used to anoint and purify consisted of myrrh, cane, cinnamon and cassia mixed with olive oil.

While most sources note that cane is, in fact, aromatic cane, there is a different, if not controversial, translation in Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s The Living Torah that contends that this cane – known in Hebrew as keneh bosem – is better known as cannabis.

Whatever the case may be, today, in the 21st century, there is no doubt that Jewish scientists, pharmacists, businesspeople, entrepreneurs and the State of Israel itself are deeply involved in the cannabis industry on a variety of levels.

The interestingly named Tikun Olam is the largest supplier of medical cannabis in Israel. It has partnered with some of Israel’s most prestigious universities to demonstrate the efficacy of cannabis use in the elderly, in order to end dependence on other, more dangerous drugs, such as opioids. Similar work has been done proving the benefit of cannabis for those suffering from colitis, Crohn’s disease and epileptic seizures.

Israelis are also on the cutting edge of cannabis accessories. Joel Dersel and Barak Rigbi are reshaping the industry. Using Israeli know-how and technology, they have established Vie, which offers state-of-the-art, cost-effective vaporizers for cannabis.

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One of Canada’s new and arising government-licensed cannabis producers with ties to the Israeli industry can be found in the Greater Toronto Area. Run by three Jewish businessmen, CannTrust is making quite a splash for its quality-based medical and soon-to-be recreational cannabis. Founded by pharmacists, it focuses on the medical needs of its patients. It also has international reach, thanks to a partnership with Apotex, the largest generic drug manufacturer in Canada and one of the 10 largest in the world.

Eric Paul, CannTrust’s Jewish CEO, is a pharmacist with decades of experience in the health-care industry. He has been associated with MediTrust, Canada’s first mail-order pharmacy, and has managed one of the country’s largest hospital medication software systems.

When I met Eric at the recent opening of CannTrust’s new 450,000-square-foot facility in Fenwick, Ont., he was effusive about his work. He reiterated to me what he said in an interview with the Business News Network: “We’ve been astounded by the growth of the medical marijuana industry in Canada…. Maybe now 12 per cent of the 80,000 doctors across Canada who could prescribe (cannabis) are prescribing, and I would say that we’re gaining on that.”

The new facility is stunning. Clean, efficient and novel in that it operates year-round as a perpetual harvest greenhouse with a production capacity of more than five times that of other producers in the country.

Two other members of our community are also involved in CannTrust:  Mark Litwin, a philanthropist and businessman serves as chair of CannTrust Holdings, and Ian Abramowitz, a chartered accountant with years of operational experience in consumer packaged goods, logistics and real estate, is its chief financial officer.

“I was raised by parents who exemplified and personified the importance of serving and giving back to one’s community,” Abramowitz said. “At CannTrust, I’m privileged to be surrounded by a group of like-minded leaders and I derive immense personal satisfaction from the knowledge that we’re providing employment for almost 400 people, while ensuring that our 45,000 patients have access to medicine that dramatically improves the quality of their lives.”