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Israel: Cannabis legalization bill clears first hurdle

A bill to legalize cannabis use was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday, passing its first hurdle on the way to becoming law.

The legislation will decriminalize the possession of up to 50 grams of marijuana while fully legalizing the possession and consumption of up to 15 grams by individuals above the age of 21.

If the bill becomes law, selling and purchasing marijuana for personal use will be legal for those above 21 and authorized shops will be allowed to sell cannabis product, through growing marijuana at home will still be illegal. The legislation also outlined medical cannabis reform.

“For the first in the State of Israel’s history, my legislative move is officially beginning to regulate the cannabis market in Israel,” Likud MK Sharren Haskel, who co-sponsored the legislation with Blue and White MK Ram Shefa, wrote in a Facebook post. “I’m proud to bring good news to over one million cannabis users and tens of thousands of sick people.”

Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman of the ultra-Orthodox United Judaism Party and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Rafi Peretz of the national-religious Jewish Home both voted against the bill.

On Wednesday, the legislation is expected to be brought before the Knesset for the first of three votes it must clear in order to become a law.

Likud MK Sharren Haskel at the Knesset, December 28, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White said in a joint statement that they would advance legislation “to resolve the issue of decriminalization and legalization,” apparently referring to recreational cannabis use.

The matter will be done “via a responsible model that will be suited to the State of Israel and the Israeli population,” the statement said, without elaborating.

The statement noted that the sides had also decided to push medical cannabis reforms in order to make it easier for patients to get access to treatment and for growers to get a license.

Haskel and Shefa were tapped to advance the legislation, which was brought before the Ministerial Committee for Legislation as two separate votes but will be combined into one in the Knesset vote later this week.

A worker tends to cannabis plants at a growing facility of the Tikun Olam company near the northern city of Safed, on August 31, 2010. (Abir Sultan/Flash90)

Israel has taken steps in recent years to make medical cannabis available and is poised to become a major exporter of the crop. Recreational use of the drug remains illegal, though the Public Security Ministry partially decriminalized it in 2017, setting fines and treatment for initial offenders instead of criminal procedures.

Medical cannabis users have also complained of near-impossible access to the few dispensaries licensed to distribute the drug.

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