The Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, chaired by MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), is interested in drawing applicable conclusions from the legalization of soft drugs in Colorado.
“It’s been four years into the legalization in Colorado and the sky did not fall,” Zandberg said during the committee’s meeting last Monday. “When things are legalized, the assumption is that more people smoke legally and report it.”
Dr. Adi Inbar, from the Knesset Research and Information Center, presented the figures of the first year of legalization in Colorado: “The main conclusion is that it is too early to determine the effects of this move, the future trends and its implications on other places”.
Dr. Yossi Harel-Fisch, Chief Scientist of the Israel Anti-Drug Authority, said, “The result deriving from meetings of professionals from all around the world is that not enough time has passed to draw conclusions. We are worried about some trends – Colorado is unique also within the US for its high rates of drug use over the years. According to the figures, Colorado is placed first among the 50 states in marijuana use among youth aged 12-17.”
Harel-Fisch presented additional figures showing an increase of 32% in the number of students who are expelled from school due to drug-related issues, as well as an increase in marijuana use among students, a 30% rise in emergency room visits due to the use of soft drugs and an increase of 44% in the number of people killed while driving under the influence of soft drugs.
MK Sharren Haskel (Likud) said, “It is strange that people from the Knesset Research and Information Center say that there are no unequivocal figures, and yet the Israel Anti-Drug Authority presents unequivocal facts. It creates an uneasy feeling.”
Dr. Harel-Fisch replied that “The rates are not precise and therefore do not prove a causative relationship. There are many interpretations but no clear conclusions.”
Committee Chairwoman Zandberg replied: “It is unclear why cannabis stands for itself, it should be considered the same as any other substance on the list. While we see a moderate increase in cannabis use, we see a rise in designer drugs which cause harm. In Colorado figures show that the crime rate is declining, as is the number of road accidents. . . . and a new figure shows a drop in the use of medicine parallel to the increase in cannabis use.”
MK Michal Rozin (Meretz) stated that “The main concern is for children and teenagers, and the question is whether legalization was made alongside an educational plan. During a visit to the Geha Mental Health Center yesterday, I was told of an increase in the purchase of the ‘Nice Guy’ drug, which causes a rise in violence towards staff and mental patients.”
Orit Shapiro, Head of the Prevention and Education Division at the Israel Anti-Drug Authority, noted that “over the past few years we have found that some youths are confused as to what is allowed and what is not dangerous. Legalizing would have immediate implications on the use of drugs – if it is allowed by law, then it must be fine.”
In response, MK Zandberg said, “There is an improper situation here, and you claim that the discourse is harmful. We are trying to have an intelligent discussion — alcohol is a more dangerous drug than cannabis, designer drugs as well, and my feeling is that because cannabis is considered criminal — you cling to the horns of the altar.”
MK Dov Khenin (Joint List), said “Criminal law today does not reduce cannabis purchase, but it [negatively influences] the attitude towards criminal law. We must reexamine the policy and should begin with no incrimination. It will enable us to combine criminal law with the symptoms which should actually be tackled”.