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Just over six years ago, in the lush Upper Galilee of northern Israel, the nation’s first large-scale harvest of legal medical marijuana was flowering on the roof deck of Tzahi Cohen’s parents’ house, perched on a cliff overlooking the bright-green farming village of Birya.
Until then, fewer than 100 Israeli patients suffering from a short list of ailments had been allowed to grow the plants for themselves, but this marked the first harvest by a licensed grower.
The Cohen home soon became a temple in the area for believers in the healing powers of cannabis — a legendary family operation that, in this early golden era, served as a grow house, a pharmacy and a treatment center all in one.
In “Prescribed Grass,” the 2009 documentary that would open the eyes of Israeli politicians to the vast potential of medical cannabis, a group of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) veterans, suffering from army wounds such as phantom pains and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are shown sitting around a table at the Cohens’ house.
There, they help trim the harvest, smoke their medicine from a small glass bong and sing the miracles of cannabis. Today, up a country road from the Cohens’ house, at a guarded location hidden by trees but open to steady sunshine, sits the family’s now-massive operation.
It’s an almost three-acre setup of greenhouses, high-tech “Twister” trimming machines and huts with labels such as “Flowering House” and “Mother House.” The Cohens have named their farm Tikun Olam, the Hebrew phrase for “healing the world” — and they believe their marijuana-growing and -processing facilities to be among the most advanced on Earth.
“It was amazing, the professional quality of the guys up there,” said an Israeli psychiatrist who visited the farm and recommends the Tikun Olam product to his patients, but who wished to remain anonymous, as he was instructed by the Ministry of Health not to give press statements.
“All the measurements and everything were so precise.” Despite its impressive new digs, Tikun Olam’s industrial garden retains an air of spirituality.
Farmhands play traditional Jewish music to the plants and believe that kabbalah legend Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, buried on a nearby hill, watches over the farm and protects it from harm.
A creaky little synagogue on site is hot-boxed with the fragrance of marijuana.
“People from the neighborhood come to pray here,” said Ma’ayan Weisberg, spokeswoman for Tikun Olam, on a recent tour of the property.