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Lawmakers have high hopes for cannabis decriminalization

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Don’t expect it to be hitting the shelves just yet, but newly proposed legislation could see Israel decriminalize cannabis for recreational use.

Under the move spearheaded by freshman MK Yinon Magal (Jewish Home party), the plant would be legal for private use, with individuals allowed to keep small amounts of cannabis and derivative products in their homes.

Similar bills have been shot down in the past, but legalization activists have high hopes this time, after a group of eight Knesset members from across the political spectrum indicated they would support the budding proposal.

Drug dealing will still remain forbidden under the charter, as will smoking the plant in public, Magal indicated. He modeled his bill on an older one written up by Tamar Zandberg of Meretz, who gave him her blessing.

While such cooperation across the aisle is rare, cannabis appears to have a unique capacity to bridge political differences, bringing together a diverse group of MKs from a variety of parties.

In addition to Zandberg, Shelly Yachimovich (Labor), Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid), Yoav Kish (Likud), Jamal Zahalka (Joint [Arab] List), Merav Ben Ari (Kulanu) and Sharon Gal (Yisrael Beytenu) have signed onto the bill.

The ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism said they would need to seek halachic approval before joining the bid. In a possible indication of a lenient approach on the matter, earlier this month UTJ head Yaakov Litzman sought state subsidies for medical marijuana.

“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 [as a consequence] fall into the world of crime,” Magal said.

In recent years, Israel has faced a growing chorus of calls for the legalization, or at the very least the decriminalization, of marijuana.

On Monday the IDF was reported to also be considering easing restrictions on recreational drug use among soldiers. In March, the Israel Anti-Drug Authority launched an ad campaign promoting medicinal use of marijuana. Israel Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino said several times this year that the police force would reexamine its policies on arresting recreational users.

Last month, a number of politicians joined Magal at a pro-legalization rally in Tel Aviv, including Zandberg, MK Miki Zohar (Likud), and former Likud MK Moshe Feiglin.

Among Western countries, Israel already has one of the highest per capita rates of legal cannabis use, with over 21,000 people licensed to use the drug for medicinal purposes, according to NRG news website.

While the liberal, pro-legalization Green Leaf party fell well short of passing the 3.25 percent threshold required to make it into the Knesset, its pro-cannabis message hit home with IDF soldiers, who awarded it 8,472 votes — or 3.64% of their tally — nearly three times more than the general population, suggesting Israel’s younger generation generally favors marijuana decriminalization.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.


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