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Thirty days before the elections, the smell of cannabis is in the air. It's not just Green Leaf. Not just the European model for soft drugs adopted by Meretz. It's also the cannabis of Tommy Lapid (hit the Haredim and save the bourgeoisie), Amram Mitzna (run for your life and hope for the best), and Ariel Sharon (credibility-determination-judgment, judgment-determination-credibility).

Everywhere you look everyone's getting stoned. War is on our doorstep, but the joints are free. The political system is rotting, but the grass is on the bar. Israeli society is disintegrating, but Ecstasy is back. And nobody's worrying about the bill. Nobody. They're in ecstasy. There's bribery in the Likud, counterfeiting in Labor, pretending in Shinui, mumbling in Meretz, hallucinating in the National Religious Party, hate-mongering in the National Union bloc. Sometimes, it seems, as night falls, the entire country is in the living room, getting high.

The National Authority for the War on drugs is worried: 300,000 Israelis have used drugs in the last year. Seventy thousand junior and senior high school students have tried drugs. There's been a dramatic rise from 9.7 percent to 13.5 percent of the people between the ages of 18-24 who are drug users. Some 19.5 percent of university and college students use drugs. And the authority reiterates that many are not aware of the psychoactive ingredients in cannabis that cause loss of memory, confusion and faulty judgment. The authority warns that the THC in cannabis causes a loss of the sense of time and spatial awareness.

But the loss of the sense of time and spatial awareness is precisely the issue. That defines the national emotional state. After everything we've been through in the last three years, many Israelis don't want to know the essence of time and see the region clearly. Faced with what's predicted for the coming three years, many Israelis don't find the emotional strength to deal with the cruel reality. That's why they're diverted by whatever comes along. That's why they're tempted by every illusion. Each in his or her own way and place is sucking up the smoke from the water pipes.

There's nothing new in this: On their way back to Ithaca from Troy, Odysseus and his men found a harbor at the island of the lotus eaters. The residents hosted their guests with the sweet plant that made them stupidly drowsy, forgetting the difficulties of their journey. But Odysseus, unlike the current Israeli leadership, didn't allow his men to descend into their delusions. He led them back to the ship and forced them to resume their challenge on the high seas. He forced them back onto the long journey back to Ithaca.

That's not what Ariel Sharon is doing. It's convenient for the old farmer that we remain half-asleep. Corrupted, our senses dulled, easy to control. That's why he doesn't bother to organize society to face the challenges crouching at our door. That's why he doesn't do anything to clean the stables, doesn't rehabilitate the social and state norms that have been destroyed. Instead, he gives us the grin of the pot grower: maybe some brownies? How `bout some spiced cookies? Nothing serious, something light. User friendly.

There's so much work to do it's difficult to know where to start. Stabilize the economy first, or shake up society, or perhaps governmental reforms. Sprout a new layer of leadership or enact comprehensive legislation or turn the dysfunctional political system upside down. Revive genuine rule of law, work for basic social justice, or develop a civic code. Rehabilitate the deterrent strength, or draw a map for a withdrawal, or formulate a consensual system of norms. It's all vital. It's all needed - urgently. Without any of that, we will not be able to face the challenges of the coming decade.

But the prime minister is in no hurry. The leader of the opposition is irrelevant. Other forces in the arena are also not offering anything. Israel is going to elections at an unprecedented moment of drama, with an equally unprecedented ideological vacuum, and in a profound moral crisis. No wonder the fragrance accompanying the 2003 elections is the sweet smell of cannabis. The cloying stench of rot is rising from Sharon's nation.