Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he supports adult-use marijuana legalization and is seeking expungement of low-level cannabis convictions for tens of thousands of Israelis.
“I examined the matter and decided to advance the erasure of criminal records of tens of thousands of Israelis for personal use and cannabis possession, something that causes unnecessary suffering to many and is a burden on the courts,” Netanyahu posted to his Twitter account.
Netanyahu did not specify how he would expunge individual’s marijuana-related convictions, but Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws afford the executive head of government, the prime minister, the power to grant pardons.
Netanyahu added that his justice minister is already looking at the issue of marijuana reform in consultation with pro-legalization Green Leaf Party Chairman Oren Leibovich, with a view to potentially importing the Canadian model of an adult-use cannabis market. Canada’s Cannabis Act permits adults to buy up to 30 grams of marijuana and cultivate up to four plants at home for personal use.
“The next required step is to promote regulation of a legal cannabis market, as Canada did in 2018,” Leibovich said to the Jerusalem Post.
While many welcomed the announcement, Netanyahu’s main political rival, Blue and White Chairman MK Benny Gantz, responded on Twitter that it is nothing more than a pre-election ploy.
“What you didn’t do during 10 years [as prime minister] you won’t do in another 10 years,” Gantz said. “[For] years, you sold illusions to the sick who need medical cannabis and to our youth in an attempt to gather votes.”
Gantz wasn’t the only one to express skepticism about Netanyahu’s announcement. Jerusalem Post reporter Gil Hoffman speculated on Twitter what other pre-election promises the Israeli Prime Minister would make next.
Israel is currently in political deadlock following an unprecedented three inconclusive elections, the most recent of which took place on March 2, 2020. Gantz claims Netanyahu made similar promises in the run-up to the last elections in April and September, 2019, when he pledged to expand the country’s medical marijuana industry.
Israel is strongly positioned to become a major exporter of cannabis. Hundreds of start-ups producing marijuana-derived medicines have based themselves in the country owing to the favorable climate for growing cannabis and sophisticated research-and-development sectors. However, while Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, passed legislation approving medical cannabis exports, Netanyahu vetoed it.
Israel did, however, partially decriminalize cannabis use and possession. Now first-time offenders face a fine and potentially medical treatment rather than criminal prosecution.