First two laws to decriminalize marijuana possession move forward as business eyes the huge potential local market and government sees big tax earnings.
By Paul Shindman, World Israel News
Two bills that have been approved in preliminary reading in the Knesset are bringing the legalization of cannabis in Israel closer to reality, Yediot Aharonot reported Tuesday.
The move puts Israeli on a path similar to some American states like Colorado, and countries like Canada and the Netherlands where medical marijuana as well as recreational cannabis have been legalized.
Israel has a large medical-cannabis industry and is a world leader in developing the therapeutic uses of the drug.
The city of Tel Aviv said it is not currently preparing for a flood of cannabis stores and city hall has not yet received inquiries about local licensing, but the southern resort city of Eilat is already working hard on an initiative called “Green Eilat” to attract more tourists.
“We decided to contact the bill’s initiators and ask them to amend the bill so that the state will produce a controlled legalization [of cannabis] that will start in Eilat to rehabilitate the city,” Shachar (Shagi) Edri, one of the leaders of the initiative told Yediot. Built primarily on tourism, Eilat’s economy has been shattered by the pandemic with more than half of the city unemployed.
Edri sees cannabis sales as a magnet for tourists.
“We conducted a survey among a thousand residents of the city and there is agreement for the idea,” said Edri, adding the group approached Eilat city hall and nearby councils and already has inquiries from vendors in Israel.
“Our goal is that everybody who opens a point-of-sale in Eilat will contribute a certain percentage of its profit to the city’s residents,” Edri said.
With 27 percent of Israelis admitting that they already use cannabis, the legalized commercial use marijuana products has a huge potential market in Israel estimated at 6-7 billion shekels ($1.75-2 billion) annually. From that, the government could rake in at least 2.5 billion shekels ($750 million) in tax revenue.
There appears to be wide support in the 120-seat Knesset, Israel’s parliament. The first bill to decriminalize personal use of cannabis passed 61-11, and the new law that will regulate how cannabis will be bought and sold was passed by a 53-12 vote.
Both bills now go back to committee for discussion and refinement before coming back to the house for final votes. Given that the movement to legalize cannabis in Israel started decades ago, it may still take a while before Israelis have to deal with the phenomenon of open marijuana use, and its consequences, on the streets without police interference.
The proposed law only legalizes possession of up to 50 grams of cannabis for personal-use and sales are expected to be limited to 15 grams at a time. However, the drug will not be downgraded from being a “dangerous” substance and possession of larger quantities by anybody unlicensed will still be a serious crime.