Israelis regularly consume more cannabis per capita than any people on Earth. Some 27% of Israelis ages 18-65 used some form of marijuana in 2017, according to US News & World Report. The numbers have surely changed in four years, but they likely haven’t declined.
With that in mind, here are 10 reasons for the country to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
1) Reduce criminality. Based on the data and using some very rough math, nearly one-and-a-half million Israelis routinely break our country’s drug laws. This is certainly one reason why regard for government institutions is in the dumps. Legalization would allow nearly a quarter of the population who are now scofflaws to become law-abiding citizens again and hold their heads high.
2) Increase prosperity. In 1977, a band with the unlikely name of Moondog Okiextremist sang “Legalize marijuana and pay off the national debt.” Macroeconomic credentials notwithstanding, those Oklahoma-based lyricists were spot-on about the unquestioned boon to government coffers wherever the substance would eventually be legalized. Forbes magazine recently reported that in 2020, the US states of Washington and California each realized approximately $500,000,000 in revenue from recreational marijuana taxes. There’s no reason to believe Israel’s tax revenues would not similarly benefit.
3) Super-charge the Start-Up Nation. Israel is not only the cradle of innovation, it has the potential to become the world-wide hub of cannabis research and development. Israeli companies have already developed cannabis products that can be delivered without the need for smoking, via transdermal, nasal, rectal, sublingual and oral routes. Yet despite the nation’s well-deserved reputation as a start-up powerhouse, Israeli cannabis innovators are being forced to sit out what is perhaps the greatest business opportunity in a generation.
Big Pharma benefits from its global reach and multiple bases of operation to cross international barriers, shielded from the prevailing laws in any one particular country. Meanwhile, Israeli scientists and researchers are hobbled by their own country’s outdated laws against recreational marijuana use. Medicane Health, headed by the repeatedly successful entrepreneur Ziv Aviram, is working with 14 research bodies, including Sheba Medical Center and Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.
Outside the gates of academia, the substance they’re working with is forbidden. Inside the gates, they have reportedly used that same substance to do amazing things, including developing a drug that treats symptoms of dementia. Personally, the timing couldn’t be better.
4) Boost agriculture. You’re tired of hearing it, but it bears repeating: from drip irrigation to cherry tomatoes, Israel is admired the world over for its agricultural acumen. The Volcani Research Institute in Rishon Lezion and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Agriculture, Food and Environment in Rehovot are only two of the exceptional institutions that could bring vital energy to what will eventually become wide-spread farming of this remarkable plant.
5) Create hasbara. Nothing says “out of date” like police officers (many of whom use the substance themselves) enforcing anti-marijuana laws. By all measures of the forward-thinking State of Israel, this anachronism should have been rectified years if not decades ago. I fantasize about showing some Israeli-grown cannabis to a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement and saying, “Boycott this!”
6) Calm the waters. Marijuana is a singular drug inasmuch as there are hundreds of varieties and breeds that emphasize just as many effects. There are strains of the weed that will make you confused, others that will increase your libido, and many that will help relieve pain, just as there are varieties that help relieve anxiety – without the many negative effects of benzodiazepines or anti-psychotics What could be a better prescription for soothing the jangled nerves of a COVID-weary population.
The words “stoned” or “high” only muddy the waters. Just as there are stupid drunks and aggravating coffee drinkers, there are plenty of pot smokers who can get on your nerves. But in my experience, there are far more expansive, happy and loving users of cannabis.
7) Deliver on promises. In parts of the rural US Deep South, it was once common for sheriffs and police officers to lose their jobs if a newly elected mayor belonged to a political party that was different from the last. In a stable democracy, law enforcement should not be dependent on the party in power. Neither should promises.
Politicians have repeatedly promised that the legalization of recreational cannabis was just around the corner. The further that corner recedes into the distance, the likelier that crazies will steal the issue for their own. Candidates for the Knesset in recent memory have tried to do just that, and the best way to stop them is to make the issue solidly mainstream.
8) Say no to (other) drugs. In January, the peer-reviewed BMJ medical journal of the British Medical Association published a study surveying 812 counties in the US in the 23 states that allowed legal forms of cannabis dispensaries by the end of 2017. The research showed not only a decrease in alcohol consumption, but in tobacco use as well, and more importantly, opioid overdose deaths.
Other research published in the International Journal of Drug Policy in January 2020 looked at US state tax receipts and found that cannabis policies were associated with significantly decreased per capita cigarette sales, compared to states with no medical cannabis policy. An increase from one to two storefront cannabis dispensaries in a county was associated with an astonishing 17% reduction in all opioid-related deaths. Dispensary count has a particularly strong negative association with deaths caused by synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl.
These studies are not slam-dunk proofs of anything. I wish they were. And as long as I’m wishing, it would be nice if there were no down side to across-the-board legalization of recreational marijuana. However, one downside is clear: that of cannabis criminalization, and there are strong indicators that both medical and recreational marijuana legalization are good for community health.
9) Generate satisfaction. Have you read about the “Keep olim in Israel” movement? Here’s an idea guaranteed to contribute to overall satisfaction and retention of immigrants: Legalize recreational marijuana.
10) Nu? Is cannabis legalization truly the most important issue we face today?
What, are you stoned?
There are far more urgent issues: security, the potential loss of a habitable planet due to climate change and pollution, the ever-increasing risk of global nuclear annihilation, racism, violence against women and crumbling infrastructure, to name a few. But do you really think any of that will change with an election?
That’s what I thought. So let’s get cannabis legalized so those who want, can light up. And maybe we can all lighten up.
The writer is a registered nurse with more than 25 years of clinical experience. He currently works as a copy editor for The Jerusalem Post correcting other people’s mistakes when he’s not making his own.