Jason Fredric Gilbert
Pushing the boundaries of weird since 1978

Marijuana and the wasted vote — Legalization’s darkest hour in Israel

The new Knesset constellation means legalization won't be happening any time soon

I voted Green Leaf. Aleh Yarok. I’m not ashamed to admit it.

Dude, where's my vote?
Dude, where’s my vote?

47,000 other Israelis also voted for Green Leaf. This is the most votes the party has ever received since it’s inception in the late 1990’s, according to a recent Facebook post by Oren Leibovich the party’s chairman.

This outstanding, almost unbelievable accomplishment was achieved during one of Israel’s ugliest election, full of nationalistic fear-mongering, racism and deception. More importantly, it is on the heels of legislation raising the threshold for making it into the Knesset to 3.25%. With no threshold, for argument’s sake, Green Leaf would have had one representative make it into the Knesset.

Aleh Yarok ran a sleek, positive, out-of-the-box campaign that highlighted the need to address decriminalization and legalization for the sake of treating patients who are in pain. Their number 2 on the list was a viable candidate for the Ministry of Health, Dr. Bareket Schiff-Keren, chief pain specialist at Ichilov Hospital, and they sought to distance themselves from the Cheech-and-Chong type stoner stigma created, in large part, by Mr. Lebovich’s predecessor, comedian and entertainer Gil Kopatsch.

They raised hundreds of thousands of shekels by selling bonds redeemable for legal marijuana, fought the press and the mainstream media (who roundly ignored them as a sideshow) to have their party represented in the polls, fought to have their members present in city debates and fought to be taken seriously by the Israeli public.

So, why then, despite these amazing, unexpected accomplishments, is legalization, or to a lesser extent, decriminalization further from the national agenda now that it ever has been in recent years in Israel?

1. Bibi. Well, I hate to blame him for everything. Let’s just say his main financial backer, Mr. Sheldon Adelson, contributes more money every year to fighting legalization causes in the US than almost anyone else. He funds various organizations throughout the States that do whatever they can to stigmatize users and debunk scientific findings that support the use of marijuana for treating patients with serious and chronic pain conditions. Why does Mr. Adelson hate the green leaf so much? I’m not entirely sure; you’ll have to ask him yourself. But if I were to guess it has something to do with the fortune he makes off of alcohol sales at his casino. But one thing is for sure, as long as Bibi is in charge here, there will be no chance for legalization. So, maybe 2017? Hopefully sooner.

Don't throw them away. Use those ballots as rolling papers!
Don’t throw them away. Use those ballots as rolling papers!

2. Moshe Feiglin. One of Israel’s staunchest supports of legalization resigned from the Likud before the recent elections due to his unrealistic spot on the party’s list in the primaries. I’m not a big fan of his politics but without him in the Knesset I doubt there will be a shot at any bi-partisan effort at legalization.

3. Tamar Zandberg. A week or so prior to the elections MK Zandberg hosted a pro-legalization conference in an attempt to sway voters away from Aleh Yarok and vote Meretz. While I am a big supporter of Zandberg, the timing of the conference as well as the attempt to poach voters from Aleh Yarok reeked of old-style politics. Let’s just say it was more of a Bibi kind of play than a Meretz thing. Either way, Zandberg found herself out of the Knesset when Meretz only received four seats. Fortunately, after the final tally, Meretz got that fifth Knesset seat and MK Zandberg retained her spot though I imagine, with the type of right-wing, religious, nationalistic coalition that’s forming, she’ll have bigger issues to fight for than legalization.

4. Deputy Health Minister Yaacov Litzman. MK Litzman held this post prior to the 2013 elections. The UTJ, in which MK Litzman is a member, received 6 mandates, or seats in Knesset, and has requested this ministerial position as part of the coalition agreement. So, why is this bad for legalization? Read this article in Hebrew from 2012, in which one of Mr. Litzman’s chauffeurs (Dear God, why does a deputy minister have more than one chauffeur funded by tax shekels???) crashed his car into a wall late one night in 2012 while off duty. Upon searching his car police found marijuana. So either MK Litzman is a closet toker and sent his chauffeur on a late night score, or, more likely, he’s completely against legalization and will use this example of the dangers of the “drug” any time there’s a petition to legalize or decriminalize marijuana.

5. MK Yoav Glant. Coalition agreements with Kulanu, Moshe Kahalon’s new party, will most likely give the Ministry of Public Security to former IDF General Yoav Glant. As Minister of Public Security, his office oversees the activity of the Anti Drug and Alcohol authority. Where does Mr. Galant stand on the issue? In an interview in 2012, when asked about legalization he said, “Absolutely not”. Doesn’t leave much room for interpretation. But more recently, during the campaign he softened his rhetoric claiming that his party (which supports decriminalization and eventual legalization) would reconsider their position based on what happens in places like Colorado. But what won’t politicians say before an election if it means getting more votes?

6. Aleh Yarok voters. I can’t speak for everyone (or anyone really) but I can’t help shake the feeling that my vote was wasted (no pun intended). It was a wasted vote. Poof. Gone. Evaporated. Nothing to show for my anger at the prohibitive housing costs, the skyrocketing cost of living and the stagnant salaries. What’s worse, that one Knesset seat could have benefited Meretz (I know, Aleh Yarok voters and Meretz voters have nothing in common…) Or the Zionist Union. It could have made Bibi’s life just a little bit harder. I really will think twice before voting Aleh Yarok again.

Legalization - chasing the dream Street Art in Tel Aviv. Artist Unkown
Legalization – chasing the dream
Street Art in Tel Aviv. Artist Unkown

All is not lost for those of us that support marijuana legalization. 8,000 IDF soldiers voted Aleh Yarok in these elections. No one under the age of 30 seriously buys into the drug company anti-marijuana propaganda anymore. Colorado is handing its citizens huge tax refunds because it is making too much money. The global war on marijuana is slowly coming to an end.

Marijuana will eventually be legal here in Israel, I’m sure of it.

Not a doubt in my mind.

We’ll all look back at this quaintly, like our grandparents looked back at the prohibition era in the US.

I just hope I’ll still be young enough to appreciate it.

About the Author
Jason Fredric Gilbert is a film and music video director, published author and acclaimed parallel parker; His Independent Film,"'The Coat Room" won "Best in Fest" at the 2006 Portland Underground Film Festival. He is also the author of two books of screenplays, "Miss Carriage House" and the follow up collection of screenplays "Reclining Nude & The Spirit of Enterprise" He currently lives in Or Yehuda and solves crossword puzzles in the bathroom. Please slap him in the face if you see him.