Israel Government Going for Full Cannabis Decriminalization and Expungement
Big changes are made as the country's cannabis industry continues to develop.
As the US awaits the presentation of Sen. Chuck Schumer’s Cannabis Administration & Opportunity Act and Mexico continues to finesse the details of its federal legalization of cannabis, Israel shifts even further towards the day of broad-based legalization. March found its President Isaac Herzog and its Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar announcing the permanent decriminalization of cannabis possession and use as well as the expungement of all previous charges.
In addition, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz also announced the beginning of a two-year process to remove plant-based CBD derivatives from the country’s list of dangerous drugs. More broadly, this move indicates the eventual arrival of a fully-regulated CBD industry in Israel, unlike the currently grey-area US, where only a medicine for certain childhood epilepsy conditions is permitted through the FDA.
Technically, Israel already decriminalized cannabis possession and use in 2019, when possession/use was reduced from a criminal offense to an administrative fine of 1000 to 2000 shekels for first and second offenses. Since then, criminal charges were only levied on the fourth charge, or when cannabis charges were lumped in with other, more serious offenses. However, the 2019 decriminalization order was only a temporary measure, and set to expire at the end of March, 2022. The new draft regulations proposed by Sa’ar and Herzog would make it permanent. In addition, the maximum fine would be reduced to 1000 shekels.
The new fold lies in expungement. Sa’ar and Herzog’s announcement also mentioned that those with prior convictions could apply to have them erased from their criminal records. Those with current charges could also move to have them dismissed. Exceptions for expungement, however, exist for those who were minors or soldiers at the time of their arrest.
For now, Israel appears unlikely to support a full adult-use industry. A legalization bill proposed in November, 2020 never advanced in the Knesset. When cannabis decriminalization was first announced in 2017, the prevailing tone was to strike a balance between lightening the burdens on cannabis users without fully endorsing an industry, or at least not yet. At the time, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet, “On the one hand, we are opening ourselves up to the future. On the other hand, we understand the dangers and will try to balance the two.” However, in 2017 Israel’s medical cannabis program only had 80,000 members in a country of 8.5 million people. Those numbers have now swelled to 100,000 in a country of 9.4 million, with 14 medical cannabis companies trading on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and the former Prime Minister Ehud Barak serving as chairman of one of them.
In addition, a recent Washington Post article even noted how the country’s medical cannabis industry has revived its struggling kibbutz system. As communal settlements, kibbutzim once grew much of Israel’s food, but have struggled to find footing as the country embraces capitalism. Cannabis cultivation for the country’s burgeoning domestic and export markets have brought young people and families back to the system. The kibbutzim are uniquely suited to build high-tech greenhouses needed to breed the sorts of plants needed to stay competitive in a global market thanks to their possession of wide-ranging zoning permits. And it’s changed their culture as well; whereas once, kibbutz members lived and worked communally, outside members can work in the new cultivation facilities, and families have their own houses.
So it would appear that little by little, cannabis is making big changes, and if it can alter how life is lived in the kibbutz, it’s most likely a matter of time until it finally finds full acceptance within larger Israeli society. Decriminalization and expungement are clearly only the beginning.