When it comes to medical cannabis, Israel has long been among the leading nations in the world. You can read a post I wrote about Israel’s achievements on that front, both in terms of legality and actual research, here. But despite its deep history with medical cannabis, the country still does not permit legal sales of cannabis for recreational purposes.
Last year, it seemed possible that this could change and that recreational cannabis in Israel would become a thing. As I wrote in December 2020, leaders in Israel’s government adopted the lofty goal of legalizing recreational cannabis within nine months. That clearly didn’t happen. I want to now circle back to why that may have been the case and what the future may hold for Israeli recreational cannabis.
First, I need to go on a brief tangent about Israeli politics. Israeli has a parliamentary government, and its parliament is called the Knesset. The Knesset has 120 seats where seats are given to members of political parties. There are about a dozen political parties in power now, for reference, so suffice it to say, it’s very different from U.S. politics. Parties form coalitions to form a ruling government and select a prime minister. At least technically, tenure is supposed to be four years, but as we’ll see, that’s often not the case.
Between 2019 and 2021, Israel had four elections because political parties could not get enough votes to form a coalition. Finally, earlier this year, an unlikely coalition was reached among a swath of parties from all across the spectrum: everything from liberal to conservative, religious to secular, and even the Ra’am party composed of Arabic MKs.
Now, back to cannabis. A few weeks ago, the Knesset cast a relatively narrow (54-42) vote preliminarily approving legislation that would expand the availability of medical cannabis in Israel. There are still a few more hurdles for the legislation to clear before it becomes law, but the point is that the country – already a leader in the medical cannabis world – is doing more to expand access to plant medicine.
But what about recreational cannabis? Well, that’s a bit more complicated. When I wrote last year’s post, it certainly looked like recreational cannabis could be legalized in Israel. But that was with a very, very different government. A few months ago, when a vote was taken on a recreational cannabis bill, members of the Ra’am party split with the governing coalition and voted against recreational cannabis on religious grounds.
The medical legislation that was recently approved on a preliminary basis actually had Ra’am’s support, but it’s leader, Mansour Abbas, made clear that Ra’am would only ever support laws for medical access to cannabis – again on religious grounds.
With Ra’am in the leading coalition, and with enough votes against recreational cannabis from other parties in the Knesset, it will probably be a few years before Israel has another chance at legalizing recreational cannabis. We’ll be sure to report on more updates from Israel in the near future.