It was no April Fool’s Day prank—Israel decriminalized adult-use cannabis on April 1 before an election on April 9. It is now legal for Israeli citizens to possess homegrown cannabis plants. If a citizen is caught carrying a small amount of cannabis without medical authorization, only a fine is imposed. The new law is expected to go into effect imminently.
This action is similar to legislation in about 35 other countries that have legalized cannabis from decriminalization to legalized adult recreational use. The government also authorized medical cannabis exports in January and analysts are predicting that regulations could be in place later in the year. This law positioned Israel to be one of the biggest players in the international cannabis industry.
This move could indicate that Israel will be moving closer to legalizing cannabis. Its mainstream political parties have been supportive of legalization. Public opinion is also calling for reforms in cannabis laws.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak is currently chairman of the Israeli medical cannabis company Canndoc/Intercure. The former prime minister’s involvement showcases his shift from cannabis prohibitionist to advocate.
He was the keynote speaker at the fourth annual CannaTech conference in Tel Aviv. Barak spoke about the benefits of medicinal cannabis and humorously added that Israel should update its motto as “the land of milk, honey, and cannabis.” Barak emphasized along with the 35 countries that have legalized cannabis to a certain extent, “Two-thirds of U.S. states have approved medical cannabis; one-third [have approved] recreational use.” Barak pointed out that the future of cannabis belonged to the bigger and more assertive players who would “swiftly enter the cannabis market.”
Israel has been established as a research capital and could become a gateway to European markets for opening up cannabis markets. Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, known as the Godfather of Cannabis, discovered tetrahydrocannabinol and paved the way for medical cannabis research. In fact, cannabis research was legal in Israel long before other countries liberalized their laws.
It is anticipated that new guidelines allow more patients to purchase cannabis with a prescription. Currently, the law is restricted to patients suffering from cancer, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, and other terminal illnesses.
The first two times an individual without a criminal record who is caught with cannabis without medical authorization will be fined. The third offense can result in the possibility of being sentenced to seven years if convicted. Plea bargains include a higher fine or relinquishing a gun or driver’s license. The new policy leaves it up to the police to decide whether to pursue offenders even after a third offense.
However, the policy does not specify how much cannabis is considered for personal or recreational use leaving it to the discretion of law enforcement. The Anti-Drug Authority has recommended that the amount be set at up to 15 grams. Police will confiscate all cannabis not covered by a prescription, and the medical permit must be carried at all times.
The new policy does not apply to prisoners, soldiers, and minors. However, policy urges directing otherwise law-abiding minors to enter rehabilitation programs.
The European market is roughly double the size of the Canadian and U.S. markets (two of the largest legal cannabis markets) with a population of over 740 million people. This first step could create the largest global market.