As pro-pot rival sweeps in, Netanyahu says he will consider legalizing cannabis
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As pro-pot rival sweeps in, Netanyahu says he will consider legalizing cannabis

Statement seen as a response to recent surge in support for right-wing, pro-cannabis Zehut party, led by firebrand and former Likud MK Moshe Feiglin

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Likud MK Moshe Feiglin at the Knesset, July 2, 2013. (Flash 90/File)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Likud MK Moshe Feiglin at the Knesset, July 2, 2013. (Flash 90/File)

Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday said he would examine the possibility of legalizing cannabis, in an apparent reaction to the surge in polls of a rival right-wing candidate who has made the issue one of his flagship planks.

Asked on the “Likud TV” Facebook stream for his opinion on legalizing marijuana use, Netanyahu said he was “looking into it and will have an answer soon.”

Israel has taken steps in recent years to make medical cannabis available and is poised to become a major exporter of the crop. Recreational use of the drug remains illegal, though politicians recently said they would consider relaxing enforcement.

Netanyahu’s statement came after a recent increase in support for the pro-cannabis and quasi-libertarian Zehut party, led by firebrand and former Likud MK Moshe Feiglin.

The party has presented a broad plan to “end the persecution of cannabis users” through “full and regulated legalization of cannabis, based on the restrictions on the sale of alcohol and on the restrictions already in use where cannabis is legal.”

Netanyahu said that he has “led some changes in this area,” citing loosened regulations on the use of medical marijuana and government approval for the export of Israel-grown medical marijuana.

“The option of continuing [this] will be examined, that may come,” Netanyahu added.

A worker tends to cannabis plants at a growing facility for the Tikun Olam company, near the northern city of Safed, August 31, 2010. (Abir Sultan/Flash90)

With the traditionally pro-cannabis Green Leaf party not running in the national election for the first time in 20 years, legalization advocates have seemingly turned en masse to Zehut, led by right-wing ideologue Feiglin, who has made legalizing marijuana a major part of his radical and iconoclastic manifesto.

Feiglin famously sparred with Netanyahu for years from inside the Likud before leaving the party in 2015.

A political outsider who has struggled to gain mainstream acceptance for decades, Feiglin could end up being a kingmaker after the election if he does succeed in riding the wave of support all the way to Israel’s parliament. Several recent polls have shown Zehut clearing the Knesset threshold and winning four seats.

Speaking to Channel 12 on Sunday evening in response to his budding popularity, Feiglin said that full legalization would be his condition for entering a coalition, either headed by Netanyahu or his chief rival, Benny Gantz.

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