Snap vote to decriminalize marijuana fails in Knesset due to Ra’am opposition

New Hope MK blames her former Likud colleagues, who had supported law proposal in previous government; coalition MKs Walid Taha and Mazen Ghanaim vote against

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

A bill to decriminalize recreational marijuana use failed to clear a vote in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday due to opposition from lawmakers in the coalition’s Ra’am party.

New Hope MK Sharren Haskel hoped to have her law proposal pass in a snap vote, as many opposition MKs were not present, according to Channel 12 news.

However, opposition MKs quickly returned to the plenum to vote against the law.

The vote failed 52-55 after 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.

The coalition holds a razor-thin majority in the Knesset, with limited ability to advance legislation without Ra’am’s support.

Haskel on Wednesday, after the vote failed, said she brought the law to be voted on, to fulfill a campaign promise of decriminalizing recreational marijuana within three months of the government being sworn in.

MK Mazen Ghanaim (L) and MK Walid Taha (R) at the Knesset in 2021. (Olivier Fitousi, Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Even though I knew the bill would be rejected I decided to bring it up,” Haskel said.

She blamed the opposition Likud party for not supporting the bill, as in principle its MKs support such a move, but has ruled out any cooperation with the coalition it is not a part of.

“But you prefer personal political considerations over the public benefit and over a law that you yourself believe is necessary. You achieved a small political victory, but you caused a great injustice,” she said in a statement.

When Haskel was still a Likud MK, the party voted last year in favor of legislation to legalize marijuana use. However, the Knesset dissolved and new elections were called before a pair of bills could pass the three plenum readings necessary to become law.

New Hope MK Sharren Haskel in the plenum hall of the Knesset, June 9, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)

Haskel said she would continue to attempt to advance decriminalization “in all the legal ways available to me, parliamentary and extra-parliamentary alike,” she added.

Haskel’s bill would permit Israeli adults to possess up to 50 grams of marijuana and to grow up to 15 plants for personal use. Anyone possessing marijuana in excess of that amount could face a NIS 2,000 (over $600) fine.

Marijuana consumption in public will continue to be barred, with violators subject to a fine of NIS 500.

Will cannabis be legal in Israel? (photo credit: Kobi Gideon / FLASH90)
Illustrative photo of a marijuana bud (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

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.

Israel has taken steps in recent years to make medical cannabis available and is poised to become a major exporter of the crop, though local medical cannabis users have complained of near-impossible access to the few dispensaries licensed to distribute it.

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