Thousands Demonstrate in Tel Aviv to Decriminalize Marijuana in Israel

Protest follows announcement by police minister in favor of legalization, but decision must be approved by government.

'Legalization 2018': Israelis demonstrate for legalization of marijuana in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, February 4, 2017.
Tomer Appelbaum

Chanting “the people demand legal cannabis,” thousands of Israelis took to the streets of Tel Aviv on Saturday to call on the government to fully legalize marijuana in Israel.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said on Thursday that he supports the decriminalization of marijuana for private, recreational use. The minister said he is adopting the conclusions of a panel he tasked with reviewing the matter, which recommended shifting from criminal prosecution to fines and educational campaigns. The recommendations must still be approved by the government.

The protest, which took place at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, was organized by pro-legalization groups and Israel’s national student union. Prominent Israeli musicians, including hip-hop group Hadag Nahash and Mediterranean singer Shimi Tavori, performed at the event and told the crowd about their encounters with police over suspected cannabis use.

Israelis demonstrate for legalization of marijuana in Tel Aviv, February 4, 2017.
Tomer Appelbaum
A demonstrator holds a gigantic mock joint, at a protest in Tel Aviv calling for legalization of marijuana.
Tomer Appelbaum

Lawmakers from the government and the opposition also attended, among them, Likud MK Sharren Haskel and Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg. Speakers called on Erdan to change the law so that consumption of marijuana is no longer a criminal offense. They also demanded the erasure of criminal records of those already convicted of marijuana-related offenses.

Many also urged the government to regulate the cannabis market, saying that failure to do so would compel Israelis to continue to pay high prices to criminal entities.