Medical cannabis bill passes first reading with Ra'am's support

A bill from New Hope faction head Sharren Haskel legalizing cannabis passed its first reading in the Knesset.

PM Naftali Bennett shakes MK Sharren Haskel's hand in the Knesset Plenum. October 13, 2021. (photo credit: NOAM MOSKOVITZ/KNESSET)
PM Naftali Bennett shakes MK Sharren Haskel's hand in the Knesset Plenum. October 13, 2021.
(photo credit: NOAM MOSKOVITZ/KNESSET)

New Hope faction head Sharren Haskel’s medical cannabis legalization bill passed its first reading in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday, giving a boost to the coalition of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

The bill, which would make it easier for Israelis to obtain medical cannabis, passed by a vote of 54-42, with the support of Ra’am (United Arab List), three months after a more comprehensive cannabis bill was embarrassingly defeated. The bill will still need to be legislated to pass into law.

Abbas told the plenum in Arabic that because the bill is solely about medical cannabis, he could vote for it. His party’s votes against the other cannabis bill resulted in its defeat. Likud MKs who back legalizing cannabis left the room and allowed it to pass, unlike last time, when they voted against it.

A man prepares a cigarette mixed with marijuana during Cannatech 2017, an annual global cannabis industry event, in Tel Aviv, Israel March 20, 2017. (credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)A man prepares a cigarette mixed with marijuana during Cannatech 2017, an annual global cannabis industry event, in Tel Aviv, Israel March 20, 2017. (credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

Bennett came to the Knesset to vote in favor. Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz spoke against the bill because it does not go far enough. He said his ministry would take steps to make the bill unnecessary.

Haskel praised the coalition for passing the bill and said it would help give needed relief to 100,000 people who require medical cannabis. New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar praised Haskel, saying it was her determination and fighting spirit that enabled the bill to pass.

Likud MK Yoav Kisch, who co-sponsored cannabis bills in the past, explained that he voted against it because it would not change anything other than giving a win to Haskel.

In another victory for the coalition, a bill that would strictly prohibit Palestinians from marrying Israeli citizens to obtain citizenship and would reform the immigration system was defeated in the Knesset by a 57 to 41 vote. The bill’s sponsor, Religious Zionist Party MK Simcha Rothman, brought the bill after failing to reach a compromise on Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked’s Citizenship Law, which was defeated in the Knesset in July.

Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich requested a roll call vote because he wanted video footage of right-wing MKs in the coalition voting against it.

“The government of Bennett, Shaked and Mansour Abbas voted with the Joint List in favor of the right of return of Palestinians, and that is shameful,” Smotrich’s party said.

Earlier, in a rare act of unity, the Knesset voted unanimously in favor of a bill that requires the Minister of Environment to submit a report on the state of nature in Israel and what needs to be done to protect it. The bill was submitted by Blue and White MK Alon Tal, his first bill that he submitted after entering the Knesset, and co-sponsored by Likud MK Gila Gamliel.

In addition to the annual report, the law establishes a scientific committee that will define the species to be monitored, the methodology and the policy measures required to address any sudden loss in species richness.

Tal explained that he wrote the law five years ago and it was submitted at his request by other MKs in previous Knesset sessions. But the bill never passed a preliminary reading.

“Nature in Israel finds itself in crisis,” Tal said. “Anyone who reads the Bible knows that the Land of Israel is blessed with extraordinary biological diversity. But in recent years, rapid development and myopia have devastated habitat and ecological corridors.”

Tal warned that every year the country loses over 22 square kilometers (8.5 square miles) of open space, which provide a home to the many local mammals, reptiles and birds. More than a third of Israel’s vertebrate species are defined as in danger of extinction. The law also meets the commitments made under the UN convention on biodiversity, a treaty which Israel ratified in 1995, but which according to Tal, was never fully implemented.

Environmental activists were pleased that after several years of “drought,” the Knesset finally is set to pass new legislation designed to address one of Israel’s most pressing environmental crises.

“While Israel has considerable data about local zoological and botanical parameters, the present State of Nature Report does not enjoy an official or statutory status and decision makers are largely unfamiliar with its existence, much less its findings,” Tal said. “The law changes this dynamic and will bring the issue of biodiversity to the direct attention of the Israeli government and parliament.”