(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Most members of the Knesset Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse boycotted a meeting Tuesday on “progressive cannabis policies,” in protest against panel chairwoman Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) being pro-legalization.
MK Eli Cohen (Kulanu) wrote a letter to Zandberg in the name of six of the committee’s 10 members, saying they would not attend in protest of her “turning [the committee] into the caucus to promote cannabis..instead of the goal for which the committee was formed to fight drug abuse and drug-related crimes, rehabilitation of users, and public campaigns to prevent drug and alcohol abuse in general and especially among youth.
“Israel is not Colorado yet, and even if you want to promote your personal agenda to legalize soft drugs, it would be better if you formed a caucus for it,” he added.
Cohen said that, as the father of four, he cannot take part in meetings meant to legalize drugs and most members of the committee agree with him.
Zandberg said that “it is too bad that MK Cohen didn’t bother participating in the committee’s meetings or looking up its plans before writing a letter full of stigmas and stereotypes."
“I support legalization and I have never hidden it, and I plan to lead the committee with up-to-date and relevant discussions based on data,” she added. “The committee will seriously deal with a long line of topics, including medical marijuana, dealing with alcoholism, and trying to change the policy of criminalizing cannabis.”
During the meeting, the National Authority for the War on Drugs and Alcohol (NAWDA) presented data about cannabis use. It claimed that 20 percent of people who need clinical help in Israel as a result of drug use are cannabis users and 37% of new rehab patients worldwide are dealing with addiction to cannabis.
Israel has a lower rate of cannabis users compared to the rest of Europe, but use is on the rise, increasing among young people, which the War on Drugs blamed on a lower sense of danger related to cannabis.
“The influence of the public discourse and adult society on youth is great and the greatest danger is among youth,” NAWDA chief scientist Dr. Yossi Harel Fisch explained. “In countries where [cannabis] was legalized, 33% of users were under age 21, even though it is illegal for them to use it.”
“Most of the world sees cannabis as illegal,” NAWDA director Eitan Gorney said.
Boaz Wachtel of the Green Leaf Party said 13,000 people are arrested for using cannabis each year.
Wachtel said that as long as cannabis is illegal, people will continue buying it, but the money will go to terrorist and criminal organizations.
“No matter what kind of enforcement is used, it does not influence how much of the population uses [cannabis]. It doesn’t matter what the law says; social processes that are not connected to the Authority for the War on Drugs matter,” he said.
Rebekah Sauer of the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies said that if cannabis is decriminalized, the government will save NIS 632.9 million each year.
MK Merav Ben-Ari came out against the boycott led by Kulanu MK Cohen and said she supports decriminalization.
“This is the reality today, and we as elected officials have to realize it. It cannot be that whoever smokes cannabis is a criminal. It’s not reasonable... Adults have freedom of choice,” she said.
MK Hamad Amar (Yisrael Beytenu) said that while he supports medical marijuana, he is against non-medical use and pointed out that much of the world considers it a dangerous drug.
Zandberg, who has admitted to using cannabis, said that criminalization is not the way to address personal, social use.
“Changing the policy does not mean recommending it, certainly not to teenagers,” she said. “There is a question about criminalization: Is it justified and effective? Slowly the question marks are becoming exclamation points: Apparently not! We have to reexamine it.”
Zandberg said the committee’s job is to examine the most up-to-date information and not to be a “nature reserve of moralizers.”