Yoav Baram – Is Israel following America in the legalization of Cannabis?
Translated into English from the original Hebrew by Yoav.
(You might as well light another one of it helps you with the fantasy).
A couple of days ago, Yossi Fish, lead scientist at Israel’s anti-drugs authority sat down at the Knesset drug committee led by Tamar Zandberg. The purpose of the committee is to review Israel’s policies towards drugs and alcohol and pass its recommendations to law makers.
To everyone’s surprise at the committee, Yossi Fish – the guy who represents an organization that for the past 28 years carried the banner of anti-drug policy – had announced his recommendation to adopt Portugal’s own drug policy of de-criminalization of drugs, thus allowing Cannabis users to carry up to 25 grams of Marijuana and channel any available funds to treating users, instead of persecuting them.
In the mid 1970’s Portugal awoke from a dictatorship that lasted 50 years. One of its effects was a huge drug epidemic – mainly Heroin. By the 90’s nearly 1 percent of Portugal’s population had a Heroin addiction. In 2001 Portugal had decided to implement a policy of de-criminalization towards drugs of all kinds: from Cannabis to Cocaine and Heroin. It started to invest its efforts in helping and rehabilitating addicts instead of spending its resources on chasing and arresting users. As a result of this policy – Portugal is now facing the lowest over-dose death rate in Europe (right after Romania). Not only that – the percentage of young people using drugs of all kinds has dropped throughout the years since the policy began, and quite noticeably when compared to its Spanish neighbor.
“The recommendation of the anti-drugs authority to adopt the Portuguese model landed after Gilad Erdan’s – Israel’s Minister of Public Security…” – expressing its own plan alongside Israel’s office of treasury last October to dismantle the Anti-drug authority, joining it with 2 other organizations and forming in its stead a new anti-drug association under his wing. The changes were estimated to save Israel 20 million Shekels per year.
It seems both Erdan and the office of treasury understood – 28 years late – that the anti-drugs authority is nothing more than an outrageous waste of tax payer’s money.
But revenge it seems wasn’t far behind as it cannot be ruled out that the anti-drugs authority announcement was part of an internal ego and power struggle that came following Erdan’s decision to dismantle it. Erdan, who is known for his anti legalization and de- criminalization views, suffered a minor blow to his bloated Ego.
But the true meaning of the announcement is much simpler – it’s pulling the curtain off of one of the biggest long running scams in humanity. What the anti-drugs authority is actually saying is: “Oops. Sorry you guys. We were wrong…and all these years we spent hundreds of millions of tax payers’ money on a useless war that brought no significant change in the extent of drug use or to its awareness. Not only that – we’ve also spread false and stereotypical propaganda which has no real grip on reality”. Pretty much what every person who watched their ridiculous “reefer madness” style commercials already knew for years.
Or as they put it nicely in ‘The Wire’ back at the beginning of the millennia: “You can’t even call this shit a war. Wars end” (The anti-drug authority Hebrew name is actually ‘The committee of war against drugs).
By the way, just like in “The Wire”, opening cases on smoking and growing pot makes a considerable amount of the police’s work – which in turn translates to endless lines of dry statistics at end-of-year presentations that we all like so much. Statistics that are used to evaluate every police officer’s performance, from the common traffic police all the way to the commissioner. More than 23,000 Cannabis related cases are opened each year by the Israeli police, with the vast majority of them closed by lack of interest by the public. NBA’s statistics are nothing compared to those of the police.
But anyway – the cat has been let out of the bag and suddenly everyone realizes the scale of hypocrisy and huge injustice against hundreds of thousands of normative Cannabis users that were- and continue to be – treated as criminals. This while Alcohol remains legal (its dangers and harm has dwarfed those of cannabis). While 50 thousand people in America alone die each year of subscription drugs.
Truth be told Portugal is just an excuse. It’s a successful long running experiment that provides plenty of data regarding the effects of de-criminalization and doesn’t really have an effect on the current spin that the anti-drugs authority so suddenly decided to take.
It’s America that led the change, and these days – the growing demand for quality medicinal Cannabis in the U.S (and on some level Europe as well) is what dictates the global tone.
The true irony in this story is that it was the Americans – first through greedy agendas of the paper and nylon industries (who saw in ‘Hemp’ their primary competition) and later through an ample amount of racism and fear invoked towards blacks, Hispanics and communists, who outlawed Cannabis a century ago (not before thoroughly demonizing it). This was shortly followed by the entire world. It is the Americans now that are reversing this attitude towards cannabis, because of…well you guessed it…money of course. Nice one America.
But for all the cannabis enthusiasts here in Israel, the sad hard truth is that there will never be legalization here, nor even de-criminalization, if only due to the simple fact that those who make the policy are a bunch of hypocritical prunes, who are used to listen to the caressing whispers of lobbyists in their hairy ears all day long.
In a country where the pharmaceutical ‘Teva’ is one of the largest companies operating in its market, it will be hard to pass legalization or de-criminalization that will lower patient’s dependency on the products by these kinds of companies. Add to that the glorification of the army and the ever-lasting existential threat that the nation holds as a top value, and you’ll realize that as long as people like Erdan, Bibi or even hypocritical Yair Lapid (who smoked pot in his youth but now lies about it whenever he can) are in charge – nothing will change.
The change will come from politicians like Tamar Zandberg, an open advocate for legalization and de-criminalization, who runs the Knesset drug committee. But unfortunately Zandberg is one of the only Knesset members who dared ‘stepping out of the closet’ and changing false paradigms regarding the recreational and medicinal use of cannabis.
And what about the rest? Well they’re much busier in striking shady deals (‘Kombinot’ in Hebrew), staying in their comfort zone and producing grandiose headlines that will soon be forgotten, much like those of the Israeli anti-drugs committee.