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Government panel said to back legalizing marijuana sales

Committee will reportedly recommend setting up authorized shops to sell the drug for recreational use to those 21 and older, but ban smoking it in public

Illustration of a man smoking a joint. February 11, 2020 (Yossi Zamir/FLASH90)
Illustration of a man smoking a joint. February 11, 2020 (Yossi Zamir/FLASH90)

A government task force evaluating the legalization of marijuana in Israel is reportedly set to recommend that cannabis be sold in special stores to those over the age of 21 for recreational use.

The inter-ministerial committee made up of representatives from the Israel Police, Public Security Ministry, Health Ministry, Education Ministry, Finance Ministry, and Justice Ministry is also set to propose a blanket ban on smoking marijuana publicly, Channel 13 reported on Tuesday night.

The soon-to-be published recommendations include a requirement for buyers to show ID at the government-authorized shops. The government will also ensure the prices are fair, to encourage users to buy the drug legally, according to the TV report.

The report by the committee has yet to be formally released. Once it’s finalized, the Justice Ministry will make the final call on whether to adopt the recommendations and draft a government bill to legalize marijuana.

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.

According to a Sunday report from Channel 12 news, the new legislative push came about following a change of tack within the Health Ministry, which was run until recently by UTJ leader Yaakov Litzman, an anti-smoking advocate.

Young people gather in Meir park in Tel Aviv, during a rally in support of legalizing marijuana. November 11, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

Israel has also 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.

In June, two linked bills to legalize cannabis use passed preliminary readings in the Knesset ahead of the three votes required for them to become law. Those bills also outlined that selling and purchasing marijuana for personal use would be legal for those above 21 in authorized shops, but growing marijuana at home would still be illegal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White parties said in a joint statement at the time that they would advance legislation “to resolve the issue of decriminalization and legalization.”

Israelis smoke marijuana joints in Jerusalem on April 20, 2017, during a rally at the Rose garden, to celebrate 420 and to express their defiance of current laws. (AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX)

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.

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