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October 14, 2013 3:39 pm

To Smoke or Not to Smoke: Israeli Politicians Admit to Marijuana Use

avatar by Joshua Levitt

Marijuana leaf. Photo: wiki commons.

Reuven Rivlin, former Speaker of the Israeli Knesset, told Twitter followers on Monday, “If you were wondering, I hereby declare: I have never smoked marijuana. I was born with a natural joie de vivre.” Rivlin’s comment follows a long line of Israeli politicians coming out on the have or the have not side of marijuana use, Israel’s i24 News reported.

The public pronouncements began after opposition leader Knesset Member Shelly Yachimovich confessed to smoking the banned substance, though not in the past 16 years. Also from the Labor Party, Prof. Avishay Braverman, Eitan Cabel, Miki Rosenthal, and Stav Shaffir smoke the stuff, while Cabel said he had tried pot as a student, but decided it was not for him.

From Yesh Atid, Pnina Tamnu-Shata, Yoel Razbozov, Adi Kol, and Yifat Kariv admitted to smoking, but Kariv said she had tried marijuana on vacation in Jamaica, but did not like it and has not tried again since. From Meretz, Ilan Gilon, Tamar Zandberg, and Michal Roisin have also admitted to its use.

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Still, most ministers and MKs, mainly from right-wing political parties, denied any such experimentation, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and Finance Minister Yair Lapid, although his denial contradicts reports by acquaintances who said they smoked pot with him 20 years ago, i24 said.

During the past elections, Ale Yarok, the tiny Green Leaf Party, threatened to expose 18 politicians who were on record as being publicly against marijuana legalization, but who had been photographed by Green Leaf supporters smoking the herb.

Ale Yarok Party chief Omer Moab, a Hebrew University economics professor and a former top adviser to Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz when he led the Finance Ministry, has supported marijuana legalization, along with anti-socialist approaches to reforming the Israeli economy.  A study released this month outlined how legalization could save the Jewish state NIS 700 million ($198 million) through lower enforcement costs, while bringing in NIS 950 million ($268 million) in new tax revenues, according to a study by the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies (JIMS), an economic policy think tank.

The potent component in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, was identified in 1964 by Israeli scientist Raphael Mechoulam, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and researchers today are finding hope for treatments for life-threatening cancers and debilitating multiple sclerosis from the plant. In 2012, an Israeli company called Tikkun Olam created and began marketing a strain of cannabis without the mind-altering THC, ultimately, the main reason why authorities today oppose public use of the substance.

While Israel has allowed marijuana for medical use since the 1990s, the substance is still considered illegal, and only about 9,000 out of Israel’s 7 million citizens have legal access to it. Proponents hope the media’s running tally on who has and hasn’t smoked may clear the air for a more honest debate.

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