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Israel: Legalization Goes Mainstream

Cannabis legalization as a political platform in Israel has traditionally been the domain of the Green Leaf Party, an idealistic, single-issue effort which has yet to gain even one seat in the Knesset. But Israeli news site YNet reported March 3 that Meretz, a traditional party of the center-left, held a confab at the Zionist Organization of America building in Tel Aviv to promote medical marijuana and to discuss more general legalization.

Entertainment was provided by topical hip-hop/funk outfit Hadag Nachash before headlining speakers, including Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg and Dr. Rick Doblin of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), took the stage. Yarden Gazit of the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies (JIMS) protested that more than 18,000 criminal cases are opened a year for cannabis-related offenses—despite the fact that only 25 percent of Israel’s populace supports criminalization.

“If you are a leftist, if you support legalization—vote Meretz,” Zandberg urged in her closing remarks.

Support for Meretz is limited by Israel’s Jewish-Arab political divide. In Israel, parties can sign “vote-sharing” agreements, allowing trailing parties to throw their otherwise “wasted” votes to runner-ups, making for complicated horse-trading. Meretz initally sought such deals with parties on the Joint Arab List. But when it entered a deal with the new Zionist Union, which has come together to oppose the ruling right-wing Likud, the Arab parties dropped out of their own pact with Meretz. All of this could mean a fragmented, left-of-center vote in this month’s elections.

The Jerusalem Post meanwhile reports that the Green Leaf Party campaign will be led by Oren Leibovitz, who produces the popular website Cannabis.com. If the point of fringe-party efforts is to push more mainstream parties towards a progressive position, it seems to be working in Israel where the herb is concerned.

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