The latest uproar on the social networks has focused on the credibility or lack thereof of Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid's claim in a recent interview with Yedioth Ahronoth that he never smoked marijuana. The comments all question the minister's integrity and media savvy, but the ban on the use of marijuana has been completely ignored. While the possibility of taking yet another jab at Lapid is thrilling, the discussion should actually focus on the need to reassess the prohibition on the consumption and possession of marijuana, a crime which carries a maximum sentence of three years.
I myself have never used marijuana and have never voted for Ale Yarok (Green Leaf party). Part of my adult life has been dedicated to the enforcement of the law against drug offenders, but I also make a living by representing suspected drug offenders. In other words, on the face of it I have a direct personal interest in the continued enforcement of the ban on pot, and yet I still believe that the public's interest justifies the annulment of this prohibition on adults, apart from those who drive under the influence of the drug.
Israelis who smoke marijuana (an estimated hundreds of thousands) consider it to be a leisure-time activity. These are not people who spend the day stoned out of their minds on the beach in Goa; they just use marijuana to relax at the end of the day or week.
Another reason to lift the ban on marijuana use has to do with the proven benefits to smoking the drug, particularly the medicinal benefits. Often times, marijuana can help where medicine cannot. In this regard, I suggest that people listen to what Dr. Sanjay Gupta, one of the leading neurosurgeons in the US who was formerly against the use of marijuana, has to say about the issue today. In light of all this, the ban on the consumption of marijuana seems absurd, and it seems even more absurd due to the fact that the use of substances such as tobacco and alcohol is legal. These substances are addictive and can do real damage.
The third reason is economic. Today the marijuana market is "black," and the State has no control over the quality and marketing of the cannabis, which is inhaled by hundreds of thousands of its citizens. The State does not collect any tax from the extensive sale of marijuana, while professional criminals rake in most of the profits. Moreover, the State spends a significant amount of money on enforcement, which is mostly futile. Many of the police cases are closed, and those that do reach the courts end with minor punishments. Many of those who are charged with offenses related to marijuana smoking are normative people whose positive reputations are tainted and productive way of life is disrupted or even destroyed. Lifting the ban on the recreational consumption of cannabis will save the State a lot of money, which will be used to fight much harsher crimes.
The next step should be the detachment of the cannabis market from the criminal elements that control it and turning the supervision over to the State. Israel can adopt the regulations for the legal recreational marijuana sales recently announced in Colorado: The selling of pot is permitted with a license only, the growing of marijuana is supervised and must follow health codes, and - most importantly – a tax will be imposed on pot sales. Ridiculous? Immoral? Perhaps, but it would be no different from the way the State treats the cigarette, alcohol and gambling markets.
This conceptual change with regards to marijuana is justified and called for. It also embodies a fresh, efficient, groundbreaking way of thinking, and this is what new politics is supposed to be about. Meaning, we will apparently have to wait a long time before these changes occur in Israel.
Kobi Sudri is an attorney