'We Can Roll With It': Where Israel's Political Parties Stand on Legalizing Marijuana

The rise of Moshe Feiglin, a far-right champion of legalization, has pulled pot to the fore in election campaigns. Where do the other political parties stand?

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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File photo: Protesters attend pro-legalization rally in Tel Aviv, February 4, 2017.
File photo: Protesters attend pro-legalization rally in Tel Aviv, February 4, 2017.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The rise of far-rightist Moshe Feiglin and his Zehut party in recent election polls, including a Haaretz poll predicting it will get four out of 120 Knesset seats, has brought the issue of cannabis legalization to the fore in campaigns leading up to Israel's April 9 election.

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Besides Feiglin, who supports legalization, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Gesher chairwoman Orli-Levi Abekasis and others have spoken about the issue in recent days. But some parties' stances, ranging from full legalization to strict enforcement of existing legislation, still remain unclear.

Haaretz has asked all main parties expected to make up the next Knesset about their marijuana platform. As of Tuesday, all but the ultra-Orthodox Shas party and Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan – whose party platform doesn't mention this issue – have responded.

'It doesn't scare me'

Even though Likud hasn't published an official platform, nor is it expected to, Netanyahu spoke about legalization on Monday, but didn't go as far as providing a clear stance. Answering a question posed by a viewer of "Likud TV," Netanyahu said he was looking into the issue "and will soon provide an answer," without ruling out supporting full legalization of marijuana.

Earlier on Monday, Netanyahu said: "I've led several changes in this field. We've increased the use of medical cannabis, brought Israel to one of the highest levels in the world. I've been told there's a global market [for cannabis] so I let farmers grow it and make it an important export sector for Israel."

Hayamin Hehadash chairman, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, said this week he doesn't rule out legalization of soft drugs, but wouldn't support it without extensive examination of possible ramifications on public health and "the future of our children." Ayelet Shaked has led in her role as Justice Minister changes in enforcement of soft drug users, leading to de facto decriminalization.

Kulanu chairman Kahlon also said this week he doesn't rule out legalization. It "exists in the world," he told Israeli Channel 13. "It exists in some countries, it doesn't scare me." He suggested looking into the effects of legalization in countries where weed is now legal. "If it all looks fine, we can roll with it."

In response to Haaretz's question, Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu said: "This is a serious issue and it would be a mistake to examine it from the outlook of the election." It also said Israel's Anti-Drug Authority and police must weigh in on it "before making any decision."

Where Meretz and the far-right converge

Zehut's platform couldn't be clearer: The use of cannabis, growing it, possessing it or purchasing it should not be a criminal offense. However, the platform suggests putting an age limit on cannabis, making it legal only for age 21 and up, but says the party may later on support lowering it to 18, on par with Israel's age limit on alcohol and tobacco.

The party that had pushed the hardest for decriminalization in the last Knesset is Meretz. Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg spelled out a clear platform upon her election for party leadership: Decriminalization of personal use, legalization of hemp for industrial purposes and sponsorship of a Knesset bill acknowledging the medical benefits of cannabis.

Labor chairman Avi Gabbay has said numerous times in recent weeks that his party support legalization of soft drugs.

Levi-Abekasis' Gesher party supports decriminalization and regulation of cannabis use, and even produced a detailed document on the matter. "Gesher believes those who consume cannabis personally should not be prosecuted," it says. "We wish to prevent an absurd situation by which our finest daughters and sons who finished military service or were left with no choice but to look for cannabis to alleviate medical issues without prescription will end up with a criminal record."

The joint slate of Arab-majority parties Hadash and Ta'al have contradicting views on decriminalization policy. Whereas Hadash supports it, Ta'al vehemently opposes decriminalization, and the two parties have yet to produce a joint platform. "We object a policy that makes normative adults criminals in the eyes of the law," Hadash says, vowing also to support motions to make permits for medical cannabis easier to obtain.

'It's a drug like all drugs. The public's wrong'

Ta'al, on the contrary, said it "only supports the medical use of cannabis, but not free use of it. Drugs are more dangerous than alcohol. Therefore, free use can lead to disasters and accidents."

Another joint Arab list, Balad-United Arab List, "supports full regulation of cannabis for medical purposes and removing all restrictions causing many patients great harm. The list does not support legalization for private use."

The Union of Right-Wing Parties, led by Habayit Hayehudi's Rafi Peretz and National Union's Bezalel Smotrich, doesn't support decriminalization. Their official stance states that the list "regards with utmost importance patients receiving medical cannabis, without any bureaucratic difficulties."

Ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism objects to legalization of soft drugs. Its chairman, Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, has made his position clear many times in the past. Last year he told Israeli military radio: "I think cannabis is a drug like all drugs, there's no difference. The public is wrong. It's a shame Israel exports cannabis, because it's a drug."

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