A long forgotten Israeli town is making a serious bid to become the world’s marijuana capital
I remember the small town of Yeruham from the early 1980s when I was stationed not far away with my HAWK anti-aircraft missile battery. Thirty years after its founding as part of then prime minister Ben-Gurion’s vision to settle the empty expanses of the Negev desert, it was poor, neglected, and full of nothing but despair. Yeruham and other towns like it were hastily constructed without much attention to places of employment or infrastructure such as schools, movie theaters, parks, etc. Cities like Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem, or Haifa, distant only a couple hundred miles, might as well have been in a different galaxy far far away, because roads were narrow and winding and buses (no air conditioning of course) few and far between.
In the first decade and a half after its founding, Israel had to resettle repatriates (in reality, refugees) from many Arab and Muslim nations, primarily Morocco, Algeria, and Tunis, all of whom had to flee with nothing but the clothes on their backs because the founding of the State of Israel and its victory in the 1948-49 War of Independence over the combined forces of the Arab world was not acceptable to their countries of exile. Israel’s victories made life impossible for North African Jews and they had to leave in a hurry. The more affluent French speakers made their way to France, while the poor and less skilled were brought to Israel, itself a poor country of less than a million inhabitants.
Perhaps the young Israel did the best it could and perhaps it could have done more, but the truth was that these refugees were dropped off in the so-called “developing towns” and left to fend for themselves, creating a social and economic problem that plagues Israel to this day.
The technology-derived economic boom that has had Israel in its grip for more than two decades now has not gone unnoticed in the Negev. In Yeruham, mayor Tal Ohana, herself a grand-daughter of those first settlers, is working with technology and community leaders to remake her town into a global leader in the area of medical marijuana in Israel and abroad. Last week she hosted a conference of 300 investors and technologists with the goal to open six plants for the processing of medical marijuana that would be grown in technologically advanced greenhouses over an area encompassing almost 150 acres.
In Israel today marijuana is legal for medicinal purposes only, but its legalization for recreation purposes is the subject of lively debate. Considering global trends, this outcome is all but inevitable. With plenty of land, abundant year-round sunshine, plentiful water due to Israel’s investment in desalination, and the newly opened Ovda international airport only a few kilometers away, Yeruham’s bid to become the world’s leader in marijuana production and processing seems to be a safe bet.
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