Photo Credit: Abir Sultan/Flash 90
Worker tends to cannabis plants at a growing facility for the Tikun Olam company in Israel's north, August 31, 2010.

The Israeli government’s Ministerial Legislation Committee on Sunday approved in principle two bills, one abolishing the criminalizing of holding up to 50 grams of cannabis for personal use, and the other permitting possession and purchase in regulated stores of up to 15 grams for personal use.

This is an unprecedented move by the Israeli government, after more than a decade during which Israel was lagging behind the majority of Western countries in maintaining an inflexible and punitive approach to cannabis use. Now, for the first time in its history, Israel is on a course of radically changing its policy.

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Both major parties, Likud and Blue&White included the promise of legalization on their platforms. The ministerial committee has approved two parallel bills which will be consolidated before being submitted to the Knesset for a first reading. Assuming the consolidated bill is approved, it would then be sent to a Knesset committee for amendments and a final version would be returned to the plenum for a second and third vote.

According to the first bill, submitted by MK Sharren Haskel (Likud), possession of up to 50 grams of cannabis would be considered personal use and an administrative rather than criminal offense. The implication is that the maximum penalty for this offense would be a fine, instead of the current up to 3 years in prison.

The second bill, submitted by MK Ram Shefa (Blue&White), determines a completely lawful possession of cannabis—as opposed to non-criminal, of up to 15 grams for personal use. The purchase will be made in designated stores and the cannabis would be grown and processed in authorized facilities.

Both bills keep criminal penalties for growing cannabis without a license, but there are legal precedents in Israel where courts have ruled that growing cannabis on one’s balcony at home in one or two a pots, without auxiliary equipment such as growing tent and dedicated lighting, may be considered personal use.

Young Israelis (including a few wearing yarmulkes) gathered at the Rose Garden in front of the Knesset to smoke weed on April 20, 2016. / Hadas Parush/Flash90

Out of the 14 ministers in the ministerial legislative committee, only Yaakov Litzman (UTJ) and Rafi Peretz (Yamina) opposed the decision.

It is expected that a coalition of anti-legalization parties will include strange bedfellows: the Haredim, Yamina, Shas, and the Joint Arab List. Also, billionaire philanthropists Miriam and Sheldon Adelson are opposed to the legalization, and will likely employ their daily, Israel Hayom, in combating the new bill.

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