Two bills to legalize cannabis use passed their preliminary readings in the Knesset on Wednesday ahead of the three votes required for them to become law, as lawmakers from the ultra-Orthodox parties absented themselves from the votes.
A law to decriminalize consumption passed 61-11, and legislation regulating how cannabis may be bought and sold was approved 53-12.
If the bills become law — they are expected to be combined into one piece of legislation — selling and purchasing marijuana for personal use will be legal for those above 21 in authorized shops, but growing marijuana at home will still be illegal.
The legislation also outlined medical cannabis reform, and will decriminalize the possession of up to 50 grams of marijuana while fully legalizing the possession and consumption of up to 15 grams by individuals above the age of 21.
Likud MK Sharren Haskel, who co-sponsored the legislation along with Blue and White MK Ram Shefa, told the plenum that “regulation on the topic of personal consumption of cannabis is one of the symbols of my generation’s freedom to make one’s own choices.”
According to the explanation attached to the bill, 27 percent of all adults in Israel consume cannabis.
The legislation was criticized by Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich, who according to Channel 13 news described it as “a super dangerous social experiment that, if it fails, will destroy the future generations of the State of Israel.”
Meretz MK Tamar Zandeberg hailed the legislation, saying that recreational consumption of marijuana should not be against the law.
“When we started this fight, many people laughed at us and called us derogatory names. But in the end, we are winning. Smoking recreational cannabis should not be criminal,” she said. “What is being done today is the beginning of justice.”
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White said in a joint statement that they would advance legislation “to resolve the issue of decriminalization and legalization.”
The matter would be done “via a responsible model that will be suited to the State of Israel and the Israeli population,” the statement said.
The statement noted that they had also decided to push medical cannabis reforms in order to make it easier for patients to get access to treatment and for growers to get a license.
Israel has taken steps in recent years to make medical cannabis available and is poised to become a major exporter of the crop, though medical cannabis users have complained of near-impossible access to the few dispensaries licensed to distribute it.
Recreational use of the drug is currently illegal, though the Public Security Ministry partially decriminalized it in 2017, setting fines and treatment for initial offenders instead of criminal procedures.
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana earlier this month signaled support for easing enforcement of laws against marijuana use. Ohana, whose ministry oversees the police, was responding to a High Court of Justice petition urging the court to annul the criminalizing of recreational marijuana use and possession.
“The stance of the incoming public security minister is… to minimize harm as much as possible to [otherwise] law-abiding citizens who have offenses linked to the drug,” the ministry’s response said.