Israel may someday soon become an exporter of cannabis, medical or otherwise. But first, it has to properly tackle cannabis use within its own borders. That was the goal of Knesset discussions that led to the approval of a medical cannabis access bill passed recently in the parliament. The difficult negotiations reveal the challenging political landscape of cannabis in modern-day Israel.
Israeli Cannabis Politics: The proposal of a new legislation on medical cannabis in the parliament was not universally approved, but it has found some support. The Raam party supported legislation to improve access to medical cannabis although its leader, Mansour Abbas, speaking in Arabic, clarified that he only supported the medical use of the plant.
A landmark vote for medical cannabis access in Israel
The Knesset approved in a preliminary vote a bill for major reforms in Israel’s medical cannabis industry that would expand its availability. It is a bold move for the Isreali Parliament especially considering that such pro-cannabis legislation had run into serious opposition already in the past.
Raam, the Arab party in the coalition, which had previously opposed a similar bill that would have also decriminalised the recreational use of marijuana, voted in favor of the legislation proposed by MP Sharren Haskel of the Tikva Hadasha party.
A bill that changes the game for medical cannabis in Isreal
Under the terms of the bill, persons licensed by the Ministry of Health will be legally permitted to grow, distribute and possess cannabis for medical purposes. The new regulation is intended to address the chronic shortage of medical cannabis available to prescription holders due to strict regulations on growers.
Israel has taken steps in recent years to make medical cannabis more readily available and is on the verge of becoming a major exporter of the plant, although local users have complained of almost impossible access to the few dispensaries licensed to distribute it.
Following on the footsteps of previous attempts to legislate cannabis access
Three months ago, a broader bill introduced by Haskel that would have decriminalized the recreational use of marijuana was rejected by parliament, with Raam voting against it on religious grounds.
The updated bill was passed by 54 votes to 42. It will now go to the Knesset’s Health Committee, where it will be prepared for a first reading. It will also have to be approved by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation.
“It is time to return to this issue that has been tied up for years with unnecessary bureaucratic restrictions, and a real reform must be made here that will liberalize the use of cannabis,” said Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz.
A sigh of relief from medical cannabis users in Israel
“This is great news for more than 100,000 patients, the most seriously ill, when most of them are living on a disability pension that is entirely wasted on a drug they need to live an ordinary life,” Haskel said after the vote.
Intensive meetings between representatives of Tikva Hadasha and Raam were reportedly held before the vote in order to convince the latter party to support the bill.
As lawmakers prepared to vote, Raam leader MP Mansour Abbas addressed the plenum in Arabic to explain to the party’s constituents why his MPs would support the legislation. Abbas said the bill had been amended from its previous version to deal only with the medical use of the product, and stressed that this was the only use Raam would accept.
Israeli cannabis is a complicated field for politicians to navigate
During the voting session, opposition MPs attacked the bill, with Likud MP David Amsalem saying that a financial supporter of Tikva Hadasha benefits from the medical cannabis trade, “so there is a classic case of conflict of interest here”.
Haskel retorted that Amsalem was “lying about personal matters without a drop of ideology.
Many opposition MPs did not take part in the vote, apparently because they did not want to be seen voting against a bill that aims to help patients, Channel 12 reported.
Likud MP David Bitan warned the absent opposition MPs that “all those who are not there will pay the price,” Ynet reported.
Recreational marijuana use is currently illegal, although the Public Security Ministry partially decriminalized it in 2017, setting fines and treatment for first-time offenders instead of criminal proceedings.
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