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Israel Inches Closer to Legalizing Cannabis Nationwide

A government task force is reportedly ready to announce its recommendations on making cannabis legal to those over 21.

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Israel, which has led the way on marijuana research, may soon also join the shortlist of countries leading the way on making cannabis legal nationwide.

Dmitry_Tishchenko | Getty Images

The timing is not yet clear on when this could happen. But a government panel charged with evaluating the potential for legal recreational cannabis is set to recommend that Israel allow the sale of weed in specialty shops, according to The Times of Israel.

The recommendations call for allowing those 21 and older to purchase cannabis for recreational use but ban consumption in public places.

Only Canada and Uruguay have legalized recreational cannabis at the national level. Many countries have done so for medical use. Currently, recreational cannabis is illegal in Israel, although the country decriminalized it in 2017.

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Israel has been steadily moving toward legalization this year.

In June 2020, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement saying he wanted to work out decriminalization and legalization of marijuana "via a responsible model that will be suited to the State of Israel and the Israeli population," The Times of Israel reported.

That statement, issued jointly by Netanyahu's Likud and Defense Minister Benny Gantz's Blue and White parties, came on the heels of a decision by a committee of the Knesset to approve bills that would legalize marijuana nationwide. The Knesset is the country's national legislative body. While the bills passed out of committee, the full Knesset has not yet reviewed them.

Still, the committee's decision and the statement from Netanyahu and Gantz showed that the country's leaders are moving toward legalization. However, many steps remain. For example, Israeli officials must set up a legal sales system, a complicated process that slowed the start of legal sales in U.S. states such as Maine and Massachusetts.

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Israel has been ahead of its time on marijuana for decades.

It seems appropriate that Israel would legalize cannabis since the country has blazed the trail on cannabis research.

Much of the research now done with cannabis has its roots in Israel. Raphael Mechoulam, a biochemist and professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, headed studies that led to a better understanding of THC, CBD, and other chemical components of cannabis.

His research began in the 1960s when most countries had outlawed marijuana and few scientists were investigating it. By the 1990s, the Israeli government began to financially back the research, putting the country far ahead of others.

Over the years, Israeli research has made many discoveries, such as the potential for cannabis as a treatment for autism.

Legalization at the national level has proven more difficult. Until recently, the head of the country's Health Ministry was anti-marijuana. However, according to the Times of Israel, the government agency recently changed its stance on cannabis use with him gone.

The government panel's recommendations will include a mandate to show ID when purchasing marijuana at shops authorized to sell weed by the government. The government will also take steps to ensure that prices are fair to encourage people to buy from the legal market rather than the black market, which is another issue that has arisen in the United States.

Once released, the recommendations will come under consideration by the Israeli Justice Ministry, which will decide whether to use the recommendations to draft a bill legalizing marijuana. The government panel making the recommendations included members of the Israel Police, Public Security Ministry, Health Ministry, Education Ministry, Finance Ministry, and Justice Ministry.

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