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Israeli Lawmakers Advance Two Cannabis Legalization Bills

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Jun 25, 2020   
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Following on from the news on Sunday that lawmakers from Israel’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation had approved a preliminary bill on cannabis legalization, on Wednesday the Knesset plenum – the central and supreme authoritative body of the Knesset – voted to advance two cannabis legalization bills in a preliminary reading.

The bills still face several more months of debate before they can become a law, but this latest action still represents a meaningful step forward for cannabis law reform in Israel.

Legalizing personal use and possession

Under the language of the bills, the possession and consumption of cannabis up to 15 grams would be legalized for adults above the age of 21, with the exception of those working in security positions.

In addition, the possession of up to 50 grams or up to two cannabis plants would be decriminalized and punished only with a large fine, rather than criminal proceedings.

If the bills were enshrined in law, authorized shops would be allowed to sell cannabis to adult customers and those who had been previously convicted for personal cannabis use could ask for those convictions to be cancelled.

There are also plans to set up an advocacy fund that would support education in schools on the potential dangers of using cannabis and the harms of drug addiction and dependence. Advertising restrictions on legal cannabis product sales would follow the same guidelines currently used on tobacco products.

While the two bills are currently being dealt with as separate proposals, they are expected to be combined into a single bill further down the line as they move through the committee process. This combined bill would then need to be brought back through the legislative process and pass three more times in the committee and the plenum to become a formal law.

Support and opposition to the new bills

The two bills passed the Knesset plenum by comfortable margins, though not every member of the 120-seat Knesset plenum actively participated in the vote. The first bill, sponsored by Member of Knesset (MK) Sharren Haskel of the prime minister’s Likud party passed by a 61-11 vote. The second similar bill, brought by MK Ram Shefa of the Kaol Lavan (Blue and White) party, passed 53-12.

“Legalizing cannabis would be symbolic for my generation as a sign of our personal freedom,” Haskel told the Jerusalem Post.

Haskel, who was born in Canada, told the plenum that 30 percent of Israeli adults are thought to use cannabis. Haskel also highlighted the economic potential of cannabis legalization, pointing to the economic benefits seen in regions of the United States which have already legalized and taxed cannabis sales, and the money already spent by police in Israel on ticketing citizens for non-violent cannabis offenses.

The two preliminary bills were criticized by MK Bezalel Smotrich of the Yamina party, who called cannabis legalization “a dangerous social experiment” that would “destroy future generations of Israelis.”

Smotrich urged the Shas party and the United Torah Judaism party – the two largest religious conservative parties – to veto the bills. Instead, they chose to walk out and did not participate in the vote.

Cannabis law reform in Israel

When the 35th Israeli government was inaugurated in mid-May this year, it was good news for many of Israel’s cannabis users. For the first time, a majority of government ministers were publicly in support of cannabis legalization, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In early-June, the ruling coalition parties Likud and Kaol Lavan announced that they had reached an agreement to pursue cannabis law reforms that would allow for a “responsible [legal cannabis] model that will suit the state of Israel and the Israeli population”.

The two bills that have now been advanced by the Knesset plenum are a part of this commitment.

Cannabis decriminalization efforts have already secured victories in Israel. Reforms enacted in April 2019 reduced the penalties for cannabis use or possession to a fine of 1,000 shekels. Second-time offenders would receive an increased fine of 2,000 shekels, and those found in possession of cannabis for a third time would face a “conditional procedure.”

Under this framework for decriminalization, criminal proceedings would only be launched against a person on their fourth occasion of being caught with cannabis. 


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