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  • Laura Herschlag

Will Israel's New Government Legalize Cannabis?

Updated: Jun 13

On Sunday, June 13, 2021, Israel's 36th government is expected to be sworn in. The incoming government coalition is composed of seven parties spanning the left and the right. If all goes as planned, Israel's longest serving prime minister will be ousted from his seat. The new government represents the first time an independent Arab party is part of the coalition.


The list of firsts goes on but the one that interests us is the inclusion of a clause on cannabis in the coalition agreements. The New Hope party, led by former Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar, aims to decriminalize cannabis use within the government's first 100 days and fully regulate recreational cannabis within the first year. (Source: https://www.newhope.org.il/news/new-hope-platform-promises-cannabis-decriminalization-within-100-days)


Saar is joined by former Likud MK Sherran Haskel, one of the most vocal and outspoken proponents of cannabis legalization over the past few years. In the outgoing government, Heskel sponsored a legalization bill to the Parliament stating that in the year 2019, almost 2020, people should not go to jail for smoking marijuana. (Source: https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/knesset-votes-to-advance-cannabis-legalization-632608O)


Meretz, another party in the coalition, includes cannabis legalization in its platform:

  • Promoting the legalization of cannabis and its products in the model of full and supervised regularization, including arrangement of growing for personal use, taxation, purchase and sales

  • Erasing criminal records for past convictions of the offense of personal use

  • Legal recognition of cannabis as a substance with medical effectiveness and the removal of cannabis products that do not have consciousness altering matter from the drug from the drug ordinances

(Source: https://meretz.org.il/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/English-Platform.pdf)


Given the pro-legalization proponents in the new government, what is the potential for Israel to have a fully legal recreational cannabis market?


Efforts to decriminalize, remove CBD from Israel's dangerous narcotics list, and fully legalize cannabis have been ongoing for several years, led by representatives from multiple parties. In June 2020 a Ministerial Committee for Legislation agreed to support the preliminary reading of a bill to amend the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance and the Regulation of the Cannabis Market for Personal-Consumption Bill.


Following this decision, an inter-ministerial team was established to examine the policy prohibiting cannabis consumption in Israel and to establish recommendations for future legislation, to be submitted to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation for approval.

A translated summary of the team's report, published in November 2020, can be found at this link.


Over a three month period, the team thoroughly explored a wide range of issues surrounding legalization including trends in cannabis use in Israel and in other countries; the international legal standard concerning cannabis use; physical and mental consequences of cannabis consumption; the perspective of law enforcement agencies; therapeutic aspects, including addictions and how to treat these; and the legal status of cannabis use in other countries, particularly where cannabis use for recreational purposes was legalized. The team spoke with government officials and experts from the US and Canada and gathered input from the various sectors of Israeli society including ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arab communities.


In its key recommendations, the team concluded that decriminalization, unsupported by regulation of the cannabis grow and supply chain, will serve to strengthen the black market by de-facto allowing the consumption of cannabis without regulating a legal source of supply. On the other hand, legalization could be considered under the stipulation that if the government decides to legalize recreational cannabis, "it must subject any legislation to the principles of the harm reduction model and public health considerations, and ensure sufficient time for carrying out a meticulous and thorough preparation process of the various authorities that will be affected by the reform." The report lays down the groundwork for establishing a legal market in Israel.


On December 7, 2020 Israel's Minister of Health, Yuli Edelstein, signed a regulatory amendment removing CBD from Israel's illegal narcotics ordinance. The Knesset Health Committee was set to approve the amendment the following week but that never happened. On December 9, 2020 the government was effectively dissolved and elections were scheduled for March 2021.


It remains to be seen if the new government will be able to continue the work of the previous leaders of the movement to allow, at least, a non-THC industry in Israel. The new government will have myriad pressing issues on its plate, from approving a budget to Iranian belligerence. I will continue to update so watch this space.

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