New Hope MK threatening to buck coalition if ‘cannabis committee’ not formed

Sharren Haskel accuses Meretz of holding up panel to discuss medical marijuana, legalization and other cannabis-related matters, in violation of coalition deal

Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.

New Hope MK Sharren Haskel speaks during a vote on a medical marijuana reform bill, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on October 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
New Hope MK Sharren Haskel speaks during a vote on a medical marijuana reform bill, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on October 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

New Hope MK Sharren Haskel has reportedly threatened to stop voting with the coalition until a so-called cannabis committee is formed in the Knesset, endangering the razor-thin, 61-seat majority the government holds in the 120-seat parliament.

According to several Hebrew media reports Wednesday, Haskel is accusing the left-wing Meretz party of holding up the establishment of the committee — which will discuss medical marijuana, legalization and other cannabis-related issues — in violation of the coalition deal.

Health Ministry officials recently persuaded Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, the leader of Meretz, that there is no need for the establishment of the committee, Maariv reported.

“If they break the coalition agreements, then I will break them,” Haskel was quoted as saying by Channel 12 news, citing the agreement to back both the establishment of the committee and legislation to legalize recreational use of marijuana.

The network said Haskel’s threat was also backed by unspecified senior members of New Hope, a right-wing party led by Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar.

In June, Haskel’s bill to decriminalize recreational marijuana use failed to clear a vote in the Knesset plenum due to opposition from lawmakers in the coalition’s Islamist Ra’am party.

New Hope MK Sharren Haskel speaks with Blue and White MK Eitan Ginzburg, who is managing the Knesset plenum, on July 28, 2021. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset spokesperson’s office)

Haskel hoped to have her law proposal pass in a snap vote, as many opposition MKs were not present at the time. But opposition MKs quickly returned to the plenum to vote against the law, toppling it 55-52.

Ra’am MKs Walid Taha and Mazen Ghanaim voted against the law along with the opposition parties. Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas was not present.

A previous vote on the bill had been delayed due to the opposition of Ra’am, after Abbas told Haskel it needed more time to examine how legalizing the recreational use of marijuana would be received among its supporters in the Arab community.

By threatening to vote against the government, Haskel appears to have adopted Ra’am’s own policy of using the coalition’s one-seat majority to gain leverage.

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.

After Haskel’s original bill fell, a new version of the legislation was drafted that would create major reforms in the medical cannabis industry in Israel and expand its ease of access, while not decriminalizing recreational use.

New Hope MK Sharren Haskel (center) seen during a vote on a law proposing reforms regulating medical marijuana, held in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on October13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

That bill passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset last month, with Ra’am’s support.

Under the terms of the bill, those granted a license from the Health Ministry will be legally allowed to grow, distribute and possess cannabis for medical purposes. The new regulations are aimed at overcoming a chronic shortage in medical cannabis available to those with a prescription, due to strict regulations over producers.

Earlier this month, the Knesset passed Israel’s 2021-22 budget, clearing the complex legislation’s last hurdle and capping a major success for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s unlikely ruling alliance of eight ideologically disparate parties.

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