Al Monitor write,
Zohar is considered one of the politicians closest to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the cannabis legislation would not have stood a chance without the prime minister’s approval. However, this was not the only reason for the elation of cannabis liberalization proponents. In addition to its preliminary approval of Shefa’s bill (it needs to be approved in two more hearings to be enacted), the Knesset also approved a draft bill decriminalizing the personal use of cannabis. Its author, Likud Knesset member Sharren Haskel, led the fight for cannabis legalization in recent years and was instrumental in convincing Netanyahu to go along.
Haskel’s persuasive powers notwithstanding, Netanyahu, as usual, was swayed mostly by poll results presented to him on the eve of the April 2019 elections, showing legalization was a highly popular agenda issue among not only younger voters and was not an expression of social debauchery.
Netanyahu’s current government partner, Blue and White party leader and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, did not need much convincing, and thus, following a two-decade political and public campaign, the Knesset “said ‘yes’ to logic and freedom,” as television presenter Guy Lerer tweeted. Lerer, a popular social media figure, had been at the forefront of the determined public and media campaign in favor of the so-called “cannabis laws.”
The cannabis laws are nothing short of a revolution, which would not have been possible under Netanyahu’s previous governments that relied heavily on ultra-Orthodox parties. The current unity government with Blue and White turned the tide, along with the support of traditional advocates, such as the Meretz and Yesh Atid parties, currently part of the opposition. Once the Knesset gives its final approval, Israel will join a club of liberal states that have started regulating nonmedical cannabis use in recent years.
The intensity of the moment when the Knesset plenary board lit up with the sweeping majority votes (61 to 11 for Haskel’s bill and 53 to 12 for Shefa’s) cannot be understated. Two young lawmakers — Shefa, 35, the former head of the National Union of Israeli Students, and Haskel, 36 — not only triumphed after a long, bitter struggle, but they also brought together Likud and Blue and White, at least on this issue, to defeat the adamant opposition of the ultra-Orthodox factions.
Various assessments put the rate of Israel’s adult cannabis users at 27%, meaning over 1.5 million people.
The battle over legalization has been long and frustrating. Two decades ago, pro-legalization advocates established a party calling itself “Green Leaf,” which led this agenda and attracted the support of young Israelis as a symbol of liberalism — and generated opposition among certain groups that viewed legalization as promoting anarchy. The party ran in successive elections since 1999 but failed to garner sufficient votes to make it into the Knesset. It was dismantled on the eve of the last elections in March 2020, but its founders can declare victory, nonetheless. Their agenda has captured hearts and minds and defeated the politicians.