Except in exceptional cases, these arrests, which often make the headlines, do not end with an indictment for drug dealing. The climax came about a month ago when the court ordered the release of a number of suspects after some 40,000 of the suspicious capsules were found in a compound close to their home. Moreover, a professional opinion stated that the substance was not necessarily a drug.
Erez (not his real name) is in his 30s and is considered one of the big suppliers of the pills in the center of the country. He has been arrested several times in recent years on suspicion of drug dealing. However, every time he was released after a few days and no indictment has ever been filed against him. Now, following the release of some of his colleagues and the police's inability to prove that the capsules they dealt with were indeed drugs, he has agreed to talk about the phenomenon.
"I alone supply some 30 or 40 kiosks and convenience stores in Tel Aviv," he said, "and there are another 20 or so people like me. I get the pills after they have already been turned into capsules and sell them to the kiosks for a price of five or eight shekels per capsule. Then they sell four capsule for 100 (shekels) and sometimes five for 100."
He says that even though he has been arrested several times, no one ever asked him where he gets the goods.
"I am only a small link in the chain. There are chemists who sit at home, or I don't know where, making a new version of the substance time and again, which has no connection whatsoever to Hagigat, but the police don't understand this." He says that since Hagigat was declared an illegal drug, there are no distributors who sell pills containing Cathinone, which is the active ingredient in Hagigat.
"Even though the police claim that these are dangerous drugs, I have not yet seen one person who was stabbed against the background of using these pills, or any kind of violent event related to them, as happens almost every day following the use of alcohol," Erez says.
Even though he is sure he is not breaking the law, it is doubtful whether you would see him arriving with his product in a commercial van and stopping outside the kiosk to unload a box.
"It's clear that so long as the police invest so much effort in arresting us, we have to work clandestinely, but between us, I am like any other wholesaler - just more cautious. After all, they keep arresting you, they say they need a few days to check the substance, and then when it turns out that it's not a drug, they set you free."
Last month the Tel Aviv police mounted a much publicized campaign after catching some 40,000 capsules suspected of being Hagigat in a compound next to Raziel Street in Jaffa, as well as 7.5 kilos of a substance suspected of being Cathinone. The Yiftah District police who brought in the huge haul were put on TV and police photographers immortalized the raid.
However, to their great embarrassment, a few days later the court ordered that all the suspects released as the laboratory test did not succeed in proving that the pills contained illegal substances. A week earlier, one of the same suspects had been detained after some 10,000 similar capsules were found in his possession, but he too was released after a short while after it was not proven that these were drugs.
"In the past year, we have represented more than 100 suspects arrested on suspicion of dealing in Hagigat," say the attorneys Shay Nudel and Guy Friedman. "Not one of them was presented with an indictment. The time has come for someone to think about these frequent and pointless arrests when the problem, as everyone knows, is in the legislation."
Similar sentiments were expressed by the magistrate, Daniel Beeri, who wrote in a recent decision to free suspects that "the state has to find a solution to the problem through the necessary legislative changes, but at this stage, the principle of legality obliges us not to keep people who do not have dangerous drugs in their possession under arrest."
"Whenever there is a raid on a convenience store, the shopkeeper always gives my name and telephone number," says Erez. "I am completely calm because I know that in the long run there is no chance that they will find anything similar to the drug they are looking for with me. Even when they are interrogating me, [the police] themselves say to me, ' we know you'll be released in another few days but meanwhile we have no choice and we will keep you here.'"
Erez says that, unlike in other fields, there are no crime organizations involved in the distribution of the capsules and nor are there even sales of the pills to criminals.
"If you were to see who the customers are of these pills, you would laugh," he says, "Women, men, students, old people who simply want to take a pill and to get a good feeling in their heads without getting involved in using drugs that are really dangerous."