A coalition bill to decriminalize the use of cannabis was defeated Wednesday night) in the Knesset plenum. The coalition brought the bill to a vote despite the opposition of the Islamist partner Ra’am, hoping to take advantage of the absence of some opposition members, but the opposition whips proved to be quite nimble, after a sleepless month on their House benches, they sent out the orders to assemble and the legalized cannabis was defeated by a 55 to 52 vote.
The bill was initiated by MK Sharren Haskel (New Hope), and its passing was included in the coalition agreements, but the council of clerics of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Ra’am vehemently opposed it and the faction voted against the bill. The Likud did the same, even though legalization was part of the party’s election platform. The Likud faction issued a gleeful statement, saying “it has once again been proven that the actual prime minister is Mansour Abbas – and only according to him will anything be passed. We will overthrow this failed government soon.”
Justice Minister and Chairman of the New Hope Party Gideon Sa’ar demanded that his faction member Haskel refrain from submitting her cannabis bill to a plenary vote, to avoid embarrassment, Reshet Bet radio reported Thursday morning.
It was also reported that Coalition Chairman Idit Silman (Yamina) and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also tried to persuade MK Haskel to wait for another opportunity, but she insisted on submitting the bill to a vote.
Coalition members reacted angrily to the humiliation they had suffered and after the first vote on the bill, an absolute majority of them left the plenum, leaving behind only Haskel and a smattering of coalition MKs. It was a bad moment for the Lapid-Bennett government.
Kan 11 political reporter Yaara Shapira tweeted Wednesday night that MK Haskel had hinted in an interview that she would demand sanctions against Ra’am for helping to kill her cannabis legalization bill. She quoted her as saying, “All of this will, of course, have consequences, and they understand that too. If there is a breach of coalition discipline and a commitment to coalition agreements, it has consequences. Such behavior has had implications for other MKs in the past and will continue to do so in the future.”
To which we all say, good luck, really. As things stand today, as long as Lapid-Bennett have not succeeded in luring in four Likud defectors to cover their absence from coalition votes, the Lapid-Bennett folks need the Islamists more than the Islamists need them. At least two coalition parties are at risk of disappearing from the political in the next elections—Bennett’s Yamina and Sa’ar’s New Hope. Ra’am, on the other hand, is here to stay and will probably grow at the expense of its Joint Arab List rivals.
Ra’am MK Said Al-Harumi told Kan 11: “Cannabis and drugs of all kinds are forbidden by the religion (you know whose religion, right?). We cannot compromise on this matter. We were honest with our partners and said it in advance. This is not at our discretion. This is something Sharia Law does not allow.”
Haredi political writer Abraham Grinzeig tweeted: Sharan Haskel, you should learn from this that when Abbas asks for the Galilee (Galil) in exchange for the Cannabis Law – he does not mean a rolled joint (in Hebrew: joint megulal).”
MK Haskel, apparently some kind of political strategist genius, told Shapira: “Obviously there were such and such pressures. Everything was coordinated with the heads of the coalition factions … It was important for me to submit the bill even though I knew it would fall.”
Cannabis Magazine, which obviously had a vested interest in passing the bill, reported that MK Haskel claims that she asked opposition MKs to attach their legalization bill, submitted by Likud MK Yoav Kisch earlier this week, and pass the legislation together, but the Likud refused. In the Likud, the opposite is claimed. They told Cannabis that they had asked coalition chairwoman Silman for a linkage, and she was the one who refused.
Also of interest: Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi disappeared from the plenum before the vote, even though her party is a leading proponent of legalization. The Arab MK got into hot water as a candidate before the election when she said she would abstain on a law banning homosexual conversion—another key Meretz position.
One final observation: Israel is one of the leading producers of quality cannabis in the world. Legalization would undoubtedly rescue the local economy which is starved for tax money. There’s a clear majority for legalization in the Knesset, and the deadly enmity between coalition and opposition is keeping it from happening.
Also: the Bedouin in southern Israel are among the largest growers of illegal Cannabis in the country. Adding them to the legitimate growers would open up new markets to them and bring in lost taxation. And yet, it appears that almost every Arab MK on Wednesday voted against the bill.
For the record, this reporter does not have a pony in this race, I haven’t touched the stuff since the 1970s.