(photo credit: Israel Police)
To some people, Israel mityabeshet (Israel is drying up) reminds them that there
is a water shortage in the country. But for others, the term evokes a different
kind of dread – the ‘drying up’ of the marijuana supply.
According to one
source, it all began in December last year. Before then, the cost of marijuana
was much lower than it is now. Ten grams (about the size of a finger) of hashish
cost around NIS 200, while today it costs NIS 500. Then, 100 grams could be
found easily, but now such quantities are hard to come by. Hydro (i.e “grass”)
used to cost NIS 60 per gram; now that amount runs at NIS 100-150, if it can be
found at all.
It is estimated that prior to 2009, 110 tons of marijuana
were coming into Israel every year. In the old days there was a plethora of
varieties. Hash is comprised of compressed THC, taken from the cannabis plant.
In Israel it comes exclusively through Arab countries and is generally sold to
big Arab dealers here who then pass it on to Jewish ones. It is also “bulked up”
with chemicals. The money paid flows back to sources in Egypt and, to a lesser
Many of the hash shipments that come into Israel also
travel with smugglers involved in the weapons and sex-slave trade, according to
police. It is thought that the same people smuggling to Hamas in Gaza are also
involved in smuggling drugs into Israel via Sinai.
The effect of a recent
police crackdown was immediate.
Everyday users found that their local
sources, friends and dealers, no longer had any to offer. The country became dry
almost overnight. People became desperate. One man paid NIS 2,000 for 100 grams
of chocolate. Another bought some sort of compressed shoe polish. These weren’t
naive college students who, in the US would go out to buy grass and end up with
oregano, but people who should have known what they were buying.
are lots of theories about the great bust that caused the country to run dry. A
serious police effort to shut down local cultivators began in the fall of 2009.
There was also a crackdown by Israeli and Egyptian police on both sides of the
border, which resulted in shipments being seized. This may have been due to
increased surveillance in regards to traffic in weapons and people in
For a while, in the spring of 2009, the rumor was that there were
hashish reserves buried underground. The drug kingpins believed the police were
watching these hidden stashes. A few major dealers in the south were arrested,
and there was fear by others that the police had infiltrated their operations
from a high level.
In February, the major dealers began to break into
their “reserves,” and drugs began to appear on the market again, albeit in very
small and expensive quantities.
In June, there were protests in Tel Aviv
and Jerusalem against the lack of marijuana. A July 15 rally scheduled for Rabin
Square in Tel Aviv was banned by the city. A puppet appeared on YouTube videos
complaining about the lack of grass. Another video showed a guy calling all his
old friends from high school to find marijuana. People who used to smoke in
reasonably public places found themselves assailed by strangers desperate for a
Several newspapers such as Yediot Aharonot
reported on the “dry
There is a sense, among the public that is partial to such things,
of a national emergency.
AS THE source, C., who lives in constant fear of
the police, rolls another joint of his fresh, home-grown product, he explains
why the current situation might be good: “because of the terrorist connections
associated with the hash that comes in with weapons from Egypt and Gaza. The
police need to accept that medical marijuana (stressing the difference between
hash and marijuana) in the West is catching on; why are they suppressing a plant
grown in nature when there are more pressing social problems… marijuana should
be legalized and taxed, and it should be legal to grow it in your own house, as
is the case in several places in the west where it has been
The most recent bust was on August 1, 2010 when 800
kilograms of marijuana were seized at the Egyptian border by Israeli police in
an action that resulted in two Beduin smugglers being shot, one fatally. The
other escaped from the hospital shortly thereafter.
Now people here are
attempting to grow the plant in or near their own homes. They order seeds from
Amsterdam which arrive in non-descript packages (like pornography in the
Like their North American peers, tokers in Israel are learning about
“hydroponics” and the “old-fashioned” method of growing weed on
My friend elaborates: “People are setting up crazy grow
systems… a friend in Tel Aviv who studied engineering set up a special
with water flowing continuously… a friend on a kibbutz has gone into
hooking us up during the dry spell.”
One resident of Lod who left his
house for three months returned in February to find that it been turned
weed farm. For others, leaving Israel (at least on holiday) has become
way to get to their favorite means of relaxation. One thing is certain:
segment of the population, the first half of 2010 will be remembered as
Great Dry Up of 2010.
The result may well be an indigenous industry that,
despite being illegal, could reduce the money flowing to illicit
Egypt and Lebanon.
The writer is a PhD researcher at
and a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.