Will Israeli elections bury cannabis legalization? - analysis

Once the Knesset officially dissolves, cannabis legislation has two potential fates. The author explains what they are.

Cannabis plants grown in the Hortica lab (photo credit: Courtesy)
Cannabis plants grown in the Hortica lab
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Just last month, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn announced that Israel was only around nine months away from fully legalizing and regulating recreational cannabis in Israel. However, after the Knesset decided to disperse at midnight on Tuesday, it is  practically certain that the cannabis legalization bill will not have enough time to get through a first reading in the Knesset plenum.
When asked whether the cannabis legalization bill still had any hope of passing, Nissenkorn’s spokesman told The Jerusalem Post that he did not see how it could move forward in light of the elections.
Though the consensus in the short-lived 23rd Knesset has been overwhelmingly pro-legalization, without passing a first reading the entire legislative progress that has so far been made on the topic may have to start again.
The vote could have gone the other way and given the Knesset an additional week to pass the bill and allow the legislative process to pick up from where it had left off, if two of the people who had proposed it had voted for it.
MK Ram Shefa of the Blue and White Party and MK Sharren Haskel of the Likud Party, who, in June, passed two draft bills for cannabis legalization and decriminalization, voted no, and abstained from the vote, respectively, in essence undoing their own joint bill.
Once the Knesset officially dissolves, the legislation has two potential fates.
The legislative process could technically continue in the Knesset Arrangements Committee – a temporary committee which exists during elections to keep the state going while other Knesset committees are temporarily inactive.
However, according to the independent Cannabis magazine, the chances of the legislation continuing through this committee are slim, especially considering the decision of Shefa and Haskel to vote against their parties.
The legalization, or at least the decriminalization process, will therefore most likely be restarted by a petition to the High Court. In June, the court rejected a petition, on the grounds that they did not want to begin a “race of authorities” with the Knesset, which passed Shefa and Haskel’s draft legalization and decriminalization bills only three days later.
The judges clarified within the ruling that if there is no progress in the legislation, it will be possible to file the petition again.
Though the legislative progress would have to be largely restarted, assuming the newly elected government is still supportive of the process, they could speed it up by basing new legislation on recommendations from the Cannabis Legalization Committee, which were published in November.
However, the next government will not necessarily see the same consensus on legalization, especially if the next coalition includes three of the most vocal opponents of cannabis legalization: Yamina, United Torah Judaism and Shas.
Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch’s plan to decriminalize cannabidiol (CBD) and reclassify it as a food additive may have taken an even bigger hit by the Knesset’s dissolution, as the plan was reportedly a single Health Committee meeting away from being approved.
It is rumored that Shefa is considering a move to a different party, while Haskel announced her intention to join Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope Party.
The three Blue and White MKs who voted against the deadline extension, Miki Haimovich, Shefa and Asaf Zamir, were approached by their former Blue and White ally, opposition leader Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid-Telem during a faction meeting.
Meanwhile, Haskel is currently on maternity leave.  Following her decision to abstain during Monday’s vote, Likud MK Miki Zohar claimed she and Likud MK Michal Shir – who voted against the bill and announced she was joining Sa’ar’s party shortly thereafter – were “quitters,” and that they were using the Likud to harm it.
If Haskel follows in the footsteps of Shir and joins the New Hope Party, her past record on legalization may help Sa’ar take votes of dedicated classic liberal ideologues, while also helping differentiate the party from its other major contender to the Right, the vehemently anti-legalization Yamina Party, and Yisrael Beytenu, which has so far been ambivalent on the issue.
Sa’ar has in the past said he is not in favor of legalization, though he eventually voted in favor of both related draft bills in June. Adding Haskel to the party is likely to solidify his transition into a fully pro-legalization politician.
Haskel and Shefa did not respond to requests for comment.