By Amos Silver
In Israel there is a group of about 15 percent of the population that is legally defined as offenders (the data is not accurate due to possible self-incrimination respondents), some even serving prison sentences. The group is an almost perfect cross section of the population in all other aspects.
Some serve in the army, pay taxes and are political activists, some of them belong to more vulnerable populations, some didn’t serve in the army and some own a cat. The rest are divided between the other layers of society. The only common thing among them is the reason they’re defined as criminals, besides that they are generally law-abiding as the rest of the population.
The offense they make only affects the person that is involved in making it. Based on documented use for thousands of years, and recent studies, not only the offense does not affect him; it also improves the situation clearly, eases his pain and often saves him from death.
What should a person who wants to obey the law but can’t, because it creates conflicts with his physical, psychological or even emotional health do? Should he sacrifice his health and welfare for the sake of maintaining and obeying the law? Or should he prefer to take care of himself, and become a criminal while taking the risk that he would get caught and punished, and may end up in prison?
Laws — at least in a modern state – aren’t made for controlling the citizen’s lifestyle, but for the purpose of regulating the conduct so that the public order or welfare of a particular individual would not be harmed, or to reduce such vulnerabilities to a minimum. If the law controls the place where I bring great benefit to myself (of course not economic or social benefit, but health and spiritual) and don’t hurt anyone, there’s no question in my opinion.
I was exposed to cannabis when I was 16
Around the age of 16, I left my parents’ house and the Orthodox way of life in which I grew up, and began a life on a track which comes in later stages of life. I moved from Safed to Jerusalem, started working, rented an apartment, paid taxes and worked perfectly.
When I turned 18 I joined the army and served three years as a fighter in the “Nachshon” regiment. When I was released I immediately went to complete my high school diploma and finished with good grades. In addition I was politically involved and active most of my life.
Naturally you can imagine my emotional and mental condition was complex. Coping with the secular world I wasn’t familiar with, the adult world of everyday reality and particularly with both of them at once isn’t easy in any case and especially for a young boy with no support or solid anchors.
I knew a considerable amount of kids (and adults) in situations more or less similar to mine, most of whom have passed certain stages in their lives in institutions and hostels and were treated with antidepressant psychiatric drugs. The minority of them were hospitalized after suicide attempts.
I and my two partners in the apartment at the time got randomly exposed to cannabis. Of course we didn’t call it cannabis but “drugs”, or “Grass” at best, that’s what we knew about it. “It’s a drug, it’s for drug addicts.” Neither I nor anyone of my partners was suicidal at that time or subsequently. No hospitalization or psychiatric treatment. We functioned fully and properly despite the enormous difficulties. And you know what? We even had fun in these years.
If the “ordinary” difficulties of life weren’t enough, I walked nearly a decade with a sense there can be no way that people around me knew I’m using cannabis because they would actually consider me a drug addict and a criminal, that’s not pleasant. As a result, and because I used cannabis on a daily basis, I pushed people away from me and from my house, lest they see anything that would indicate I was smoking cannabis (before I was discovered and the fear has gone).
Slowly, over the years and throughout life, I find out that I’m not alone
There are nearly one million cannabis consumers in Israel! Permanent, temporary and casual and everyone is afraid and remains silent. Does this make sense that such a big part of the population is defined as criminals? Because of something that doesn’t hurt anybody?
And that’s before we talked about the medical aspects of the plant, its benefits continue to be exposed all the time.
Studies that show the effects of cannabis on almost every disease or named phenomenon continue to pop up all the time, when the most ground breaking and influential research is that of Prof. Raphael Meshulam of the Hebrew University, his research (with Dr. Yehiel Gaoni and Yuval Shavo) essentially showed the THC component, the active substance in the plant.
“Today a number of companies develop medications related to the andocannabinoidal system. THC has already been approved as a drug that treats vomiting caused by chemotherapy and stimulates appetite in cancer and AIDS patients… a THC and CBD spray to treat pain and negate the effects of multiple sclerosis… an anti-cancer drug based on the cannabinoid quinone and an Israeli company is developing anti-inflammation cannabinoid materials that are based on Meshulam’s work “(again, Wikipedia).
An experiment executed by the Ministry of Defense examined the effect of cannabis on post-trauma. The experiment was conducted with 40 participants with post-traumatic symptoms after they were treated with conventional psychiatric tools and reported no relief in their situation. After being treated with cannabis reviewers found that in all 40 patients, all the tested parameters were improved, and most importantly, the subjects themselves reported that only cannabis was able to calm their anxieties.
If you’re interested, the Ministry of Health halted all permits to cannabis as a medical treatment to victims of post-traumatic stress disorder and doesn’t issue approvals for it anymore. The same is for “common diseases like Parkinson’s, diseases that are difficult to prove like fibromyalgia or any other disease that can be treated with a drug just as effective” (quote from a letter of the Ministry of Health Director Dr. Yehuda Baruch).
Dr. Baruch is the director of Abarbanel Hospital and the only person in Israel authorized to approve cannabis for medical practice based on the recomm
endation of a specialist. In contrast, Israel’s only drug that a doctor or a specialist doesn’t have the authority to provide a prescription to is cannabis.
It is inexcusable that cannabis is illegal, is found the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance and is incriminating users. Except huge profits for drug companies that manufacture and sell hundreds of billions of dollars in drugs, medicines, much of which will become redundant when cannabis is approved as a medical treatment for those diseases.
Only for understanding the connection of the pharmaceutical companies, medical cannabis is approved in the following cases:
• Any kind of cancer at any stage
• Chronic neuropathic pain
• Multiple Sclerosis MS
• Crohn’s and Colitis
• Weight loss and extreme appetites
• Neurological diseases and movement disorders, Parkinson’s, ALS, Epilepsy, Glaucoma
• Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
• Tourette’s syndrome
• Hepatitis / jaundice
(All subject to personal and individual approval from Dr. Baruch)
This is only the tip of the iceberg. The main virtue is its function as a natural non addictive painkiller. Imagine that only 15% of patients of these diseases (the part that statistically would have consumed cannabis without the disease) will cease to consume regular drugs and replace them cannabis. The cost of cannabis approved by the Ministry of Health today is 360NIS per month. It’s negligible in relation to drugs marketed in conventional medicine, which can cost thousands of dollars per month or more.
There are four points that repeat in my conversations with people and I want to address each of them:
• Contrary to common opinions, cannabis is barely addictive. “You can develop a chronic psychological dependence on daily cannabis consumption, but the development time of that dependence, the intensity and the withdrawal symptoms are significantly minor in comparison to caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, cocaine or heroin addiction” (From Wikipedia, cannabis).
• The toxicity of cannabis for the body is among the lowest. “The amount of cannabis required to saturate cannabinoid receptors to the amount of cannabis needed to cause a fatal overdose is 1:40,000…. For this reason a case of death due to cannabis overdose had not been documented” (From Wikipedia, cannabis).
• There is no association between cannabis consumption and other substance abuse such as cocaine and heroin, the so-called “transition drug”. Even without the need for empirical observational studies it shows that cannabis smokers smoke cannabis as a way of life and not as a gate to a “universe of hard drugs”. But there are also studies examining a link between cannabis use at younger ages and hard drug use in the later stages of life, these studies found out that the majority remained a cannabis consumer, but the percentage of cocaine and heroin users in that group was almost identical to their percentage in the general population.
• Addressing the issue of cannabis won’t make it more accessible to the youth more than it is now, it will even make it more limited. “I live among my own people”, and I see that it’s easier today for those teens to buy cannabis than alcohol and cigarettes. The illegal cannabis is sold by people with pure economic interests and nothing stops them from selling to 12 year old kids, compared to cigarettes and alcohol that are sold legally, limiting the accessibility to these materials for the youth. Of course, in any case it’s not possible to completely stop leakage of the materials mentioned above.
My proposal to regulate the use of cannabis and stop the incrimination of honest citizens is this:
Cannabis should be immediately removed from the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance and be sold in stores under supervision and license (e.g. in pharmacies) under the minimum age of 21, without a prescription. One might also consider limiting the amount that can be bought by a single person, if it’s found useful. At the same time the state can and should conduct international, major studies about cannabis, and present their findings to the general public to judge for himself whether to consume it or not.
As a result, the state would remove a million people from the cycle of criminality (and their derivative from the prison), cut the profits of illegal organizations drastically, give the public a high quality, supervised and controlled material, and receive millions of dollars a year as a bonus through taxes.
Who will be the biggest losers like you ask? The main three are:
• Criminal organizations who control the cannabis market on its derivatives today.
• Pharmaceutical companies that half of their drugs would become almost unnecessary (primarily pain relievers, sleep medications, appetizing and psychiatric pills).
• The Hezbollah organization that controls the growth of cannabis in the Bekaa Valley and Baalbek. The produce comes straight to the Israeli consumer at 10 times the cost in Lebanon itself.
Editor’s note: Amos Silver, the author of this piece, is now under house arrest after growing two plants in his room. He is a member of a political legalization organization called ‘The Truth Generation.” This organization calls on cannabis users to join the major political parties in Israel and change the balance INSIDE the parties for the benefit of legalization (opposite to what is usually done: voting once every four years on regular election).