Netanyahu vows to erase criminal records of marijuana offenders
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Netanyahu vows to erase criminal records of marijuana offenders

Rival Benny Gantz accuses prime minister of a campaign ploy to court pro-legalization vote, claims premier will not make good on promise

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a meeting at the Health Ministry in Tel Aviv on February 23, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a meeting at the Health Ministry in Tel Aviv on February 23, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he will seek to wipe the criminal records of Israelis convicted for possessing or using marijuana, drawing recriminations from the rival Blue and White party, which accused the premier of making a campaign promise he had no intention of honoring.

“I examined the matter and decided to advance the erasure of criminal records of tens of thousands of Israelis for personal use and cannabis possession, something that causes unnecessary suffering to many and is a burden on the courts,” Netanyahu wrote on his Twitter account.

“[Justice] Minister Ohana has begun work on the matter and he will head a committee with professionals and Green Leaf [party] chairman Oren Leibovich, which will examine importing the Canadian model for regulating a legal market in Israel,” Netanyahu wrote.

Marijuana is legal for medical and recreational use in Canada.

Blue and White chairman MK Benny Gantz dismissed Netanyahu’s pledge as a pre-election ploy.

“What you didn’t do during 10 years [as prime minister] you won’t do in another 10 years,” Gantz wrote on Twitter. “[For] years, you sold illusions to the sick who need medical cannabis and to our youth in an attempt to gather votes.”

“Save your spin at the expense of the sick for yourself,” he added.

Head of the Blue and White party MK Benny Gantz speaks to supporters at an election campaign event in Tel Aviv, on February 20, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

It was not immediately clear how Netanyahu would be able to clear the records of Israelis convicted for marijuana crimes. Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws give the power to grant pardons to the president.

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.

The promise from Netanyahu to consider legalization came just over a week before the March 2 elections. He made a similar vow ahead of elections in April and, before a second round of elections in September, pledged to liberalize the medical marijuana market.

The two previous elections failed to produce a majority government amid a political deadlock, pushing the country to an unprecedented third vote within a year. However, prediction polls have indicated that the coming vote also will not result in a clear winner.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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