I take Democracy very seriously, but when I tell people that I’m voting for the Aleh Yarok party in the coming elections and that they should too, they think I’m joking. I’m not.
Aleh Yarok, Green Leaf in English, is a small fringe party vying for a place in the Israeli Knesset after two failed tries at getting in. They have no current members of Knesset on their list; and therefore no government funding for their campaign. The primary issue on their platform is the legalization and regulation of Marijuana. To do that, they vow to join any coalition and use any opportunity given Knesset members to promote relevant Cannabis legislation. Regarding other political hot potatoes they support the notion of appealing to the public via referenda on any contentious issues.
While I have never voted for them in the past, I realized from the moment elections were declared that now was the time I should. The arguments for why are three: 1) the issue, 2) the meta-issue and 3) the protest. I will address these in consecutive blogs.
1) Marijuana legalization is taking place slowly over the Western world. Marijuana usage is ages-old but only in the late 20th century did it become illegal and, therefore, enjoy taboo status. Culturally, Marijuana usage is ubiquitous. Fewer are those who have not smoked than have, and yet the President of the United States would be embarrassed to admit it (except perhaps in Washington or Colorado). Certainly from the references in music, TV and film, one must assume that marijuana usage is as common as alcohol and cigarette abuse. So why is it illegal? The answers, whether historical, conspiratorial or pragmatic, are too many to list here. The more pressing question, which the Aleh Yarok party is asking, is: what are the social and economic costs of this illegality?
Socially, the illegality of Marijuana is more damaging than the physiological and addictive properties of the drug itself. A young citizen caught misbehaving with marijuana could have his future options limited by the weight of legal proceedings and consequences thrown on his young shoulders. Marijuana users support, against their will, criminal activity of many kinds. Individuals thus exposed to the underside of society move on to be further marginalized and abused. The inability to regulate Marijuana because of its illegality may even increase the health risks. One must ask, which social ailments could be receiving more needed attention were the resources poured into Marijuana prosecution made available for use elsewhere?
The cost of prosecuting illegal Marijuana production, importation, and usage is just one side of the economic aspect. There remains the potential for economic gain. This past Knesset has seen fit both to raise VAT to 18% and to raise Beer and Cigarette taxes. The potential gain to government coffers has pushed, more than anything else, for the legality of Marijuana in certain US States. I’m told that Colorado is considering returning tax money to her citizens. Ironically, the campaign against Marijuana legalization in California was supported by the growers and dealers of Marijuana who benefit economically from Marijuana’s illegality.
The industries Israel would harm by making Marijuana legal include terrorism, theft, and smuggling. Most Marijuana users are sadly aware that their consumption and the large sums they pay for an otherwise easily grown weed supports the Bedouin smuggling rings of the Sinai, the Iranian/Hezbollah drug cartels of Southern Lebanon, local Israeli crime lords, and peripherally other smuggling operations such as weapons and human slavery. While the proper regulation of Marijuana, like tobacco and alcohol, would require serious funding, the potential savings from other sectors and the potential income both direct and indirect are massive enough that a more serious assessment of the matter should be on the table of the next government.
The government has already seen fit to legalize marijuana for medicinal use. This permit, ironically, illustrates the greater problem. Cannabis is a plant family, not a drug. Elements from the species are finding their way into our medicine cabinets through the accepted paths of pharmaceutical research, FDA approval, and medical prescription. But until patented drugs are developed, it is patently unfair to throw the burden of prescribing “medical cannabis” onto the already overburdened medical system. There is no difference between “medicinal” cannabis and street-bought Marijuana. There are no standards, no canonical knowledge given to doctors, no established dosages, no species specifications, no proper regulation. The government has essentially turned doctors into dealers, dodging the real issue in favor of a quick fix.
A vote for Aleh Yarok is a powerful vote directed at one specific piece of legislation whose time has come to be addressed responsibly. A vote for Aleh Yarok and Cannabis legislation is NOT a moral vote of support for Marijuana use. Rather it is akin to a referendum where I, as a citizen, can have my voice heard and vote for positive change.
Until now, while I may have sympathized with Marijuana legalization, I have not seen fit to fight publically for the cause. So why now? The answer to that will be addressed in my subsequent posts. The Marijuana cause is a just one, but there are even more compelling reasons to vote Aleh Yarok.