High Court: No cannabis smoking at Tel Aviv rally

Group asked for police license to smoke illegal drug at 'Cannabis Day' event in Rabin Square

311_Marijuana (photo credit: MCT)
(photo credit: MCT)
The High Court of Justice on Tuesday rejected a petition by a marijuana legalization group asking for a police permit allowing people to smoke cannabis at an event calling for the drug to be legalized.
The petition, filed by the Dor Haemet (“Generation of Truth”) movement, which calls for the legalization of marijuana, asked the court to issue an injunction allowing police to grant a license for an event on Friday, which they said is part of “World Cannabis Day.”
That license, the petitioners said, should allow protesters to smoke cannabis during the event as an act of protest over the drug’s illegality, without facing arrest.
In rejecting the petition, the panel of three justices – Supreme Court President Asher Dan Grunis, Noam Sohlberg and Uzi Vogelman – said that there was no legal basis for the court to grant relief.
“How could the police, who are entrusted to enforce the law and eradicate drug dealing, grant a license to violate the law?” Sohlberg said.
According to Dor Haemet, Israel has over 1 million cannabis users, whom they say are needlessly criminalized because marijuana use is illegal. The group calls on cannabis consumers to “use their political power” to legalize the drug.
Dor Haemet filed the petition after police rejected their request for a license to hold a three-hour protest in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Friday.
April 20, known colloquially as 4:20, is considered an international counterculture holiday for cannabis users, involving public gatherings often in support of the drug’s decriminalization.
In their written refusal to grant a license for Friday’s event, the police had warned that smoking cannabis is a criminal offense under Israeli law, but said that if the movement should consider holding its protest in a different format that did not involve breaking the law, it could approach the police again.
In response to the petition, the police argued that the High Court should reject it outright, because the petitioners’ request concerns a criminal offense and therefore the court has no grounds to intervene.
The petitioners, who include attorney Dekel- David Ozer, contended that the police decision failed to make a correct balance between freedom of speech and the duty to obey the law.
They argued that the World Cannabis Day event is taking place in most, if not all democratic countries in the free world, and asked the court to consider whether the violation of law that would take place if police allowed protesters to smoke cannabis at the event would be significant enough to deny them freedom of expression and freedom to protest.
“The event is limited in time and location and does not violate public sentiment,” the petitioners argued.
In rejecting this argument, Sohlberg said that the petitioners’ request was to “allow drug smoking in public at a gathering of hundreds of people.”
“Limiting the event in time and location does not dull the force of law,” he added.
“The parties do not disagree about the importance of freedom of expression,” Sohlberg said. “Despite the fact that the petitioners want to hold a demonstration designed to encourage drug use, the [police] did not rule out the possibility of allowing them freedom of expression on that issue.”
Instead, Sohlberg said, the police were not prepared to grant a license allowing the petitioners to break the law by taking drugs with the police’s express approval.
Sohlberg noted that in the petition, Dor Haemet had provided extensive details about cannabis use, including a survey of use in different countries, and said that the legalization of marijuana was a “weighty political topic.”
Rejecting the petition, he said, did not prevent the movement from holding a demonstration on these issues that its members care so deeply about.
Significantly, in his ruling, Sohlberg compared the current petition about permission to smoke marijuana in a public protest to a previous petition by members of the far-right illegal Kahanist movement, who had asked to hold a march and wave pro-Kahane flags.
Although the issues were obviously different, Sohlberg said, the principle set down by the High Court was the same.
In that 2010 ruling, the court said that police powers regarding demonstrations intersect with their duties to maintain public order and prevent crime. While the police do not prevent demonstrations, they do prevent illegal acts during those demonstrations, the ruling said.
In response, Ozer said that Israel was now among those countries – like Russia, South Korea and Syria – that does not allow citizens to protest marijuana’s illegality by smoking the drug at rallies.
“These are countries where freedom of expression does not permit [citizens] to light a ‘joint’ on International Cannabis Day and thus [they] prohibit the existence of this day,” Ozer said, adding that Dor Haemet thought the court’s ruling was “unfortunate” in that it compared “support for terrorism to support for a change in drug policy.”
Ozer added although he was dissatisfied with the ruling, cannabis smokers were law-abiding citizens who would respect the court’s decision, and called on the public to support the issue by attending a discussion in Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park.
“We don’t want to protest, we just want a change in the law,” Ozer said, adding that the “cannabis-smoking masses” would effect a democratic revolution through political means in the Knesset.