Cannabis policy is an increasingly bipartisan issue, not only in the United States, but also abroad. No longer in the sole domain of leftists and hippies, politicians across the spectrum from progressive to conservative are coming to regard cannabis as a serious political matter.
In the Israeli Knesset (national legislature), the latest cannabis law reform bill was born out of the ruling, right-wing Likud party — the home party of Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu.
Member of the Knesset Sharren Haskel, who proposed the bill, says cannabis is “an issue of citizens’ rights.” The bill aims to make cannabis possession an administrative offense, rather than a criminal one. Under Haskel’s bill, possession of cannabis in private would merit a 300 shekel fine (equivalent to $81) while public possession would be subject to a 1,500 shekel fine (equivalent to $405).
Cannabis decriminalization has been a popular topic in the Knesset of late. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, also a member of the Likud party, announced support in January for a new policy that would use education and administrative fines, rather than criminal prosecution, to address marijuana use violations.
Israel’s Justice Ministry also issued a legal opinion supporting decriminalization, while right-wing Knesset Member Moshe Feiglin, whose wife uses medical cannabis, has been a longtime, outspoken proponent of looser cannabis laws in Israel.
Especially when people begin to see the benefits of cannabis as medicine, it helps them understand also that decriminalization might not be as much a threat to society as otherwise deemed.
Israel is known as a world leader in cannabis research, but has lagged in criminal justice reform.
The Bulgarian-born, Israeli raised chemist Raphael Mechoulam pioneered the discovery of THC, the main chemical in cannabis, in the early Sixties, and continues to this day to make headway in scientific research. Meanwhile, Israel’s medical marijuana program is fully legal under the federal government, unlike the varied state-by-state programs in the United States. However, only a few thousands patients are actually able to participate in Israel’s medical cannabis program.
“The more I saw how incredible this medicine works on certain people the more I said I cannot ignore that,” Haskel said. “If I am a parliament member and I know I can assist citizens in living a normal life, it’s my duty and obligation.”
Because it’s still so difficult to become a medical cannabis patient in Israel, many people use the plant outside the official medical system. And those who do might would be subject to criminal prosecution, if not for a new decriminalization policy.
While in the United States, cannabis policy reform has gained momentum across the aisle as a states’ rights and personal freedom issue, in Israel, the origins of its right-wing support are a bit different.
“In Israel, having the religious blessing plays a major influence in morality,” says David Schachter, who founded the startup Cannabiscope in Tel Aviv. With cannabis deemed kosher by Rabbinic authorities, it’s easier for the right wing, many of whom happen to be religious, to get on board with cannabis policy reform.
Still, these more lenient policies have yet to be implemented.
“I’m thrilled that [cannabis] will be decriminalized, however it’s a long way off and many things can happen until then,” says Sylvia Sheinbaum, a Tel Aviv-based cannabis activist. “The police are going to have a field day because if you can go in the street with grass in your pocket, then the police will have a great time finding it on many many people. Decriminalization is the first step to legalization, keeping my fingers crossed.”