Medical marijuana has been legal in Israel since the early 1990s, and now lawmakers are considering legislation to decriminalize the possession and use of personal amounts of recreational cannabis.
Already having one of the highest rates of legal medical marijuana use in the world, Israel appears poised to take cannabis reform a step further as a number of lawmakers have recently expressed support for the decriminalization of private, responsible use of the plant.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the cannabis debate in Israel is the diversity of voices calling for reform. Freshman Knesset member, Yinon Magal, of the right-leaning Jewish Home party, introduced a bill that would allow citizens to possess and use small amounts of cannabis recreationally. Knesset members from six other parties spanning the political spectrum in Israel have endorsed the legislation. Two more ultra-orthodox groups are undecided, but considering it. In May, a number of Knesset members from various parties marched in a pro-legalization rally in Tel Aviv.
Though the motivations for supporting cannabis reform may vary from one group to the next, unifying themes among reformists are pragmatic, and ethical concerns have been voiced about using state resources to punish law-abiding citizens who also use marijuana.
Magal said of his bill:
“This is first and foremost a social proposal meant for youngsters from lower socioeconomic backgrounds that were arrested for a grain of cannabis, spent a night in jail with crooks, and may [subsequently] fall into the world of crime.”
Israel’s police chief, Yohanan Danino, recently expressed the opinion that enforcing laws against private use of cannabis was a poor use of resources, saying that he “does not care about individuals smoking joints on their balconies.”
Though Magal’s bill is yet to be voted on, Knesset member Tamar Zandberg, member of the left-leaning Meretz party, said of the debate surrounding cannabis use:
“The public has progressed and understands marijuana consumers are normal citizens who do not harm anyone, and there is no reason to persecute and incriminate them.”
On the right, former Likud party member Moshe Feiglin said:
“We need to step out of this fear and make this a country of freedom.”
This demonstrations that the topic of cannabis reform has the power to forge unusual alliances among politicians, allowing a degree of bipartisan accord unthinkable for other issues.