Gov’t Faces Crisis Over Cannabis Law as Ra’am Set to Vote Against

YERUSHALAYIM -
An employee tends to a medical cannabis plant at an Israeli medical cannabis company in 2019.  (Reuters/Amir Cohen)

New Hope MK Sharren Haskel was reportedly facing pressure to pull her proposed bill decriminalizing recreational marijuana use ahead of a planned Wednesday vote in the Knesset, with the law failing to garner the backing of the Ra’am Party and facing almost certain defeat.

Despite the entreaties of the coalition, Haskel refused to pull the bill.

The bill was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday, giving it government backing.

But Ra’am, which has broken with the coalition and played spoiler in previous legislative efforts, opposes decriminalization of marijuana consumption on religious grounds.

Unsuccessful efforts were made overnight to convince the party not to vote against the bill, according to Army Radio, with coalition politicians pushing for Ra’am MKs to abstain instead.

Due to the opposition of Ra’am, which is joined by the parties in the opposition, the bill appeared to lack sufficient support to clear a first reading in the Knesset. The coalition was seeking to enlist opposition MKs to back the proposal, including from the Joint Arab List, Channel 13 reported.

The coalition holds a razor-thin majority in the Knesset, with limited ability to advance legislation without the support of Ra’am. The party’s MKs said Monday they won’t hesitate to initiate coalition crises to get what they want, after briefly threatening to stop working with the coalition.

Haskel’s bill would permit Israeli adults to possess up to 50 grams of marijuana and to grow up to 15 plants for personal use. Anyone possessing marijuana in excess of that amount could face a NIS 2,000 ($660) fine.

Marijuana consumption in public will continue to be barred, with violators subject to a fine of NIS 500.

Coalition whip MK Idit Silman (Yamina) blasted plans to bring the bill to a vote without ensuring its passage in the Knesset – citing the recent failure of the government to pass the Citizenship Law.

“There is a limit to how much we can take. Things will fall apart if we don’t know how to compromise. I’m not prepared to bring a bill up for a vote that is liable to get voted down,” she said.

Silman’s comments provoked an outcry from a number of coalition partners.

MK Evgeny Sova (Yisrael Beytenu) said that if the government’s behavior “continues like this, we’ll go to elections.”

MK Michal Rozin (Meretz) vowed that her party would no longer back the Citizenship Law in its present form. “You’re trying to bring back the Citizenship Law, but we won’t back it unless it is changed. And if things continue like this, the whole coalition is liable to fall apart.”