After years of conservatism and “Reefer Madness” style propaganda, the Israeli “Anti Drug Authority” had surprisingly decided to support decriminalization of all drugs. The Minister of Internal Security is strongly against the idea, but many Israelis feel now they finally have a chance to change the drug policy in the country - and they aren’t going to let this opportunity go to waste.
The first thing that Jack, my American friend, had asked me right after I picked him up from the airport in Israel, was to show him where he can get some of “the best bud the Holy Land has to offer”. Well, he was quite surprised to realize we are going to score that weed in some dark alley in south Tel-Aviv, instead of walking into a fancy dispensary.
“But I thought Israel was a progressive country when it comes to cannabis,” Jack said, “people come from Europe and north America to check out the medical cannabis program, the farms and laboratories – I was sure that marijuana was practically legal here”. But Jack was wrong. So wrong.
Despite the fact that the Israeli Medical Cannabis program has earned a reputation that attracts delegations from around the world seeking to learn new agriculture and scientific discoveries in the field – the local police are not making any allowances for the casual or “recreational” user:
Home raids and invasive body searches are done on a daily basis and more than 20,000 criminal records for simple marijuana possession are opened annually, with some finding themselves doing jail time for growing one plant or even holding less than a gram of bud.
But is this longstanding draconian policy about to sing her swan song? A recent historic declaration from the Israeli Anti Drug Authority had suggested that there is a need to stop treating the drug problem at the criminal level and instead start to embrace the “Portuguese model”.
To understand how ruthless the cannabis laws in Israel truly are, we can take example from Nachshon’s story, a father of six who got a restraining order keeping him from home after the police found four small cannabis plants in his closet.
“It all started when my wife’s friend came to our place one afternoon,” says Nachshon, “she was running away from her ex-husband, who eventually followed her to our house and tried attacking her with a knife”.
During the investigation the police asked Nachshon and his wife to come to the station and testify about what happened. But the attacking husband had a trick up his sleeve, and in a desperate attempt to undermine their testimony, he told the cops that Nachshon and his wife were “junkies that grow cannabis in their house”. That was enough.
“I don’t even know this guy, he has never been in my house before,” Nachshon tells me, “but the police didn’t needed more than this random information to issue a court search warrant and come knocking at my door.”
After the police discovered four cannabis plants at Nachshun’s place, they arrested him and filed charges. Even though it was his first conviction, the court decided to punish Nachshon with a yearlong restraining order from home.
“I truly don’t understand on what grounds they are separating me from my wife and kids? If i don’t have any criminal record or a violent past, what kind of a disproportional punishment is that?” Nachshun asks
According to the Israeli law any amount that is less than 15 grams of cannabis is considered “personal use”, but in some cases, even the smallest amount of weed can get you jailed – just ask Yuval, who found himself spending 56 days in prison for holding no more than 0.89 gram of cannabis.
“The crime rate in the area where I’m living is pretty low,” says Yuval, “so the police need to show that they are working hard, and what better way to raise the total numbers of your unit than making some quick and easy marijuana arrests?”
Yuval remembers the police harassments taking place since he was a teenager: “They would surprise us at the parks, or every other corner we could find to sit and smoke. Eventually I got to a point that I remembered the cops names by heart, and I wasn’t any big shot bad ass criminal – the only reason i got arrested time after time was for holding cannabis, no theft, no robbery, no violence – just weed.”
After a few times getting caught by the police, Yuval had to pay a painful price for his cannabis consuming habit, when the judge had sent him to serve almost two months in prison. “The first time I heard the judge read the verdict I felt like I was going to faint,” he says, “the fact that I was going to do jail time for possession of less than a gram of cannabis is just astonishing, it made me feel like I’m living in a third world country.”
The public campaign in Israel towards decriminalization of cannabis had started only a few years ago, when thousands of citizens on numerous occasions went out to protest in the streets of Tel-Aviv and the capital Jerusalem.
Over time the Israeli Cannabis Movement had gained local support: from journalists and media figures, through different kinds of retired public figures – all the way to serving parliament members, some of them even dared to argue on the right of the IDF soldiers to smoke Hashish when they are on vacation.
There is no doubt that the public atmosphere and approach towards the cannabis issue in Israel had gone through significant changes, but when it comes to law reform and the reality on the ground, it seems like nothing had changed, mostly thanks to one special governmental body – the notorious “War On Drugs” Authority.
The Israeli “War On Drugs” Authority was established in 1987 and has since been the spearhead of the fight against drug use in the country. For many years the organization has been known for its conservative approach and their ridiculous anti-cannabis propaganda commercials.
One of the first controversial anti-drug campaigns they launched at the 90’s was of a teenager holding a water pipe (“Bong”), dressed like an Arab suicide bomber, looking straight to the camera and reading a farewell letter to his parents and friends – trying to imply as if consumption of cannabis is equal to going on a suicide mission.
Another ludicrous campaign that got slandered on the social media platforms took place only two years ago, when the “anti drug” agency published a fiction blog of an imaginary girl telling a story about how she smoked weed and got turned into a lizard.
All of this “reefer madness” propaganda had bought the “Anti Drug Agency” a reputation of an old-fashioned and conservative organization, and that’s exactly why no one was expecting them to suddenly announce that they have changed their perception and now they support the decriminalization of all drugs.
Obviously, the surprising announcement for embracing the Portuguese model had caught the headlines all over the Israeli media platforms, which made a lot of the cannabis consumers in the country to start holding their hopes up for a real change for the first time.
But it is still too early to start lightening up the joints: any reform in the drug policy has to get the approval of Gilad Ardan, the Minister of Internal Security, and that will not be easy since Ardan used to be the head of another non-governmental “anti-drug” organization called “Al-Sam” (“No Drug” in Hebrew) and for years he has been known for his anti drug opinions.
On the other hand, the Israeli legalization activists are planning on doing everything they can to make sure that this opportunity would not go to waste: a massive protest is going to take place in front of Ardan’s private house, and a group of journalists has joined hands to support this effort while promoting a campaign on all of the local media platforms under the headline: “It’s about time, Ardan!”
It sure is.
By Ziv Genesove
Published in issue 127 Weed World magazine