We decided that if the state refuses to look at us as a legitimate business and take taxes from us, we would pay the taxes on our own initiative,"
After the Israeli authorities rejected an online drug trafficking project’s (Tellegras) request to pay taxes to the state coffers, they decided to initiate a special gesture: generous donations to various non-profit organizations. They explained that, “If the state does not want to take taxes from us like a legitimate business, we will transfer the money to those who we see fit,” promising, “this is only the beginning.”
A range of green hills, clear mountain air and the sounds of goats and cows mingling with the rooster’s dawn cry is what Sharon Cohen hears when she wakes up at her animal farm for another morning and begins the routine breakfast round of the residents.
For nearly ten years she has been caring for the various animals who have made their way to the farm, in most cases after incidents of serious accidents or criminal neglect. Maintenance of the place costs about 50,000 NIS a month (approximately 14,000 US dollars), and it functions without the support of the state and exists only because of donations.
Throughout the existence of the farm, Sharon has encountered quite a few types of donors, but she never imagined that a cooperative of illegal cannabis dealers would ever join the list of contributors.
A biker comes with a bag full of bills
“Wednesday I get a phone call from an unidentified number, who says to me, ‘Hey Sharon, we do not know you. I’m working with “Tellegras” (A Cannabis trading arena based on the ‘Telegram’ application), and we want to donate 42,000 NIS to your organization’”
“At first I did not understand what it was all about, I was sure it was a joke, why would Cannabis dealers donate to me money? But in less than an hour a guy appeared on a motorcycle and pulled out a black bag. I looked inside and was amazed to find a huge amount of bills”
“After the guy with the motorcycle left the place I was left in shock, I felt like I was in a movie or something, it was such a bizarre incident. I sat down and counted the bills one by one – there was exactly 42,000 NIS. I consulted with several individuals and eventually made a decision that I would receive the money and went to deposit it in the bank.”
Sharon does not feel that she needs to apologize for receiving “dirty” money, saying that cannabis is already becoming legal in more and more places in the world, so there is no problem that the money comes from profits of cannabis. “These resources would go to criminal organizations – now instead this money will fund more food and treatment for unhappy animals,” she concludes.
Half a salary – for smoking a joint
The story of the contribution of the cannabis dealers was published in the largest media outlets in Israel and brought up the public discourse about the need to regulate the cannabis market in the country.
Israel is considered by many in the world as a “cannabis superpower,” thanks to the advanced agricultural technology in the country and the medical research promoted by the Israeli Ministry of Health in the field of cannabis – But regarding to cannabis for recreational use, Israel is still operating like a Third World country: more than 20,000 criminal cases are opened every year to ordinary citizens for personal use only, and people may still find themselves in jail for growing a plant.
It is true that in recent years there has been a significant increase in public pressure on Knesset members (The Israeli Parliament) to change the situation, and recently a government program called “De-Criminalization – with responsibility” has been published. However, most of the cannabis consumers in the Holy Land view this as a farce, since the police still allow themselves to conduct invasive searches of citizens’ homes, and to grant fines of 1,000-3,000 NIS ($ 250- $ 1000), a sum that for some of the citizens would be equal to more than half of the monthly salary.
“It will help us support the children”
A short time later, a new report appeared of another contribution by the Israeli cannabis dealers, this time of 30,000 NIS (about $ 8,500), to an organization that deals with autistic children and adults.
“I was very excited to receive the donation, it will help us support the children,” said Avigail Dar, a member of the association’s management and treasurer, whose son also has autism.
Like Sharon Cohen’s organization, this organization also does not receive government support, so a few donations, especially of this magnitude, greatly help it to properly function, which is amazing because sometimes the charity encounters difficulties due to lack of funding.
The fact that various nonprofit organizations in Israel see nothing wrong with receiving money from Cannabis dealers proves how much the change in consciousness among the Israeli public has shifted.
“We don’t accept money from criminals”
The media, as we know, love these “Robin Hood” stories, and it seems that the Telegras managers succeeded in embarking on a brilliant marketing exercise that publishes their Cannabis trade project on every possible platform. However, beyond the publication of the project, it appears that the donation campaign led to increased public discussion in Israel regarding the growing need for full market regulation.
“The truth is that before we started with these donations, we contacted various factors in the country and tried to examine how we can pay taxes to the public coffers,” one of the project managers told Weed World. “But after weeks of sending us from one party to another, we received a final answer. We were told that no official institution in the country can accept money from criminal activity such as dealing with drugs and prohibited materials. “
“We insisted, we tried to explain to them that our project is rolling over a quarter of a million shekels every month, an astronomical sum that we would gladly transfer to the public, but they remained in their position and claimed they were not taking money from criminals.”
“This is only the beginning”
In the end, the Telegras managers understood that there was no chance that the state would agree to take money from them, so they turned to Plan B: a donation to various organizations operating in various fields close to their hearts.
“We decided that if the state refuses to look at us as a legitimate business and take taxes from us, we would pay the taxes on our own initiative,” explained one of the managers. “I have no doubt that the great publicity that these actions have generated in the media has reached the highest levels. It will take time, but, eventually, they will understand their mistake,” he said.
“We are getting many reinforcements from the Israeli public on the idea,” he declared and promised that, “this is only the beginning. We will continue to donate money to various bodies until the state will get some sense and regulates the cannabis market in Israel.”
Originally published in Weed World Magazine Issue 135