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Government announces plan to advance cannabis legalization reforms

Legislation easing restrictions on recreational, medical use to be advanced ‘responsibly’; report says process will take 4 months, use to be approved for ages 21+

Illustrative image of someone smoking cannabis. (Tunatura; iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative image of someone smoking cannabis. (Tunatura; iStock by Getty Images)

The two biggest parties making up the new government on Tuesday said they would push for increased legalization of cannabis use, a week after the police minister backed easing enforcement of existing laws.

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,” apparently referring to recreational cannabis use.

The matter will be done “via a responsible model that will be suited to the State of Israel and the Israeli population,” the statement said, without elaborating.

The statement noted that the sides 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.

The legislation will be advanced by Blue and White MK Ram Shefa and Likud MK Sharren Haskel, and will be brought to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation “at the earliest convenience and after organized groundwork.”

The statement did not give a more specific timetable for the moves, but Channel 12 reported Tuesday evening that it would likely take about four months.

The report said Haskel and Shefa had met and agreed on outlines for the reform: Cannabis use will only be permitted for those aged 21 and up, not including workers in security-related jobs; driving will be forbidden under cannabis influence; designated shops will sell the drug; there will be severe restrictions on advertising cannabis, as is the case with cigarettes; and an educational fund will be formed to explain the dangers and addictiveness of the drug to school students and others.

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

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 the Public Security Ministry partially decriminalized it in 2017, setting fines and treatment for initial offenders instead of criminal procedures.

Medical cannabis users have also complained of near-impossible access to the few dispensaries licensed to distribute the drug.

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana last week 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.

It also said Ohana intended to appoint a team to weigh a more lenient policy regarding recreational marijuana users.

The petition the Public Security Ministry was responding to was filed by Oren Leibowitz, a pro-legalization activist who in February appeared alongside Ohana in a Likud campaign video backing the creation of a legal marijuana market similar to Canada’s, as well as wiping the criminal records of those convicted of some cannabis-related offenses.

Minister Amir Ohana (right) and pro-legalization activist Oren Leibowitz in a Likud party campaign video released on February 25, 2020. (Screen capture: Facebook)

In the video, Ohana decried the “heavy-handed” enforcement of marijuana laws.

“They took law-abiding citizens and turned them to criminals. Not because they harmed another person, God forbid, but rather because they allegedly harmed themselves,” Ohana, who was justice minister at the time, said in the video in an apparent reference to police and prosecutors.

The video, which was released days before the March 2 elections, came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of Likud, said he would seek to wipe the criminal records of Israelis convicted for using or possessing marijuana.

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