Israeli Lawmakers Give Preliminary Approval for Cannabis Decriminalization

Two separate bills call for decriminalizing the use or possession of small quantities of cannabis, but the government said it would introduce its own legislation on the subject instead

Jonathan Lis
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Marijuana grows at an indoor cannabis farm in Gardena, California, August 15, 2019.
Marijuana grows at an indoor cannabis farm in Gardena, California, August 15, 2019.Credit: Richard Vogel,AP
Jonathan Lis

The Knesset on Wednesday approved in preliminary vote two bills that would decriminalize and regulate the use and possession of cannabis in Israel.

The two proposed bills, initiated by lawmakers Sharren Haskel of Likud and Ram Shefa of Kahol Lavan, would have to pass three additional Knesset votes to be enshrined in law.

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The governing coalition decided to give nominal support to the bills but announced that it intends to introduce its own legislation on the matter in the future, which would ultimately result in shelving the bills submitted by Haskel and Shefa.

Lawmakers from ultra-Orthodox parties abstained from voting, while opposition lawmakers supported the proposals.   

The two bills provide for the decriminalization of the use and possession of small quantities of cannabis and regulates its sale for individual consumption as well as for medicinal use.

Members of Knesset Sharren Haskel and Ram Shefa in the Knesset plenum hall, June 24, 2020.
Members of Knesset Sharren Haskel and Ram Shefa in the Knesset plenum hall, June 24, 2020.Credit: Adina Wallman, Knesset spokesperson

Haskel’s bill received the support of 59 lawmakers, with 11 voting against. Shefa’s bill received 53 votes in favor, 12 against and one abstention.

Community Development Minister Orli Levi-Abekasis announced that a ministerial team would convene to draft a government bill on the subject in consultation with Haskel and Shefa.

Haskel voiced criticism of lawmakers who oppose such legislation. “Even within this house, I have found a considerable number of opponents who have consistently wanted to stop it from moving forward,” she said. “They know how to talk about the freedom of the individual but when it relates to action, they take one step back.”

An employee tends to medical cannabis plants at Pharmocann, an Israeli medical cannabis company in northern Israel January 24, 2019.
An employee tends to medical cannabis plants at Pharmocann, an Israeli medical cannabis company in northern Israel January 24, 2019. Credit: אמיר כהן / REUTERS

She said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had told her that he would support the bill and gave it his backing. “The bill [is] not aimed at encouraging drug use, but rather setting limits on age, permitted quantities for possession and where smoking [it] would not be permitted and regulating the purchase of cannabis in a way that would make oversight possible and that would wipe out the black market.”

For his part, Shefa said “If we understand that regulation is critical for young people, we will understand the problems and stop chasing after young people who get fined. Currently there is no public information effort directed at young people. A portion of the bill seeks to establish a fund from the money that the state would earn from legalization that would lead us to understand its significance.”

Bezalel Smotrich of the opposition Yamina party was critical of the proposed legislation. “You are going to carry out a super-dangerous social experiment, and if, heaven forbid, it fails, it would ruin the future generations of the State of Israel,” he said. He called the effort a golden calf that everyone is worshipping.

“Since when have we surrendered to dangerous fashions? I understand that the next bill from the liberals here in this house is to repeal the requirement to wear seat belts,” he said sarcastically.

Smotrich said legalization would make it easier for under-aged young people to obtain cannabis, as they currently do when it comes to cigarettes and alcohol. “It’s been illegal for many years to sell alcohol and cigarettes [to those] under the age of 18, but there is no 12-year-old who wants cigarettes who can’t get them.”

Last year, the Knesset passed legislation that revamped the penalties for possession of marijuana. First-time offenders caught smoking or possessing it are fined 1,000 shekels ($290). Fines are doubled for second-time offenders. Third-time offenders are referred to a probationary procedure as an alternative to criminal proceedings, which are instituted for a fourth offense.

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