Smokey Monkey, based in Tira, has just defied the odds. It has become the first medical cannabis cafe in Israel. This is a place where people can legally buy and use medical cannabis.
Its owner, Kama Shbeeta, a former psychiatric nurse, is on a mission to change the stigma associated with cannabis use. In founding the cafe, he hoped to become an alternative to the black market for those who need help in treating their chronic pain and to help patients consume the drug more safely.
At first, Shbeeta received death and arson threats from people who wanted to burn his establishment to the ground. However, gradually, the neighbors began to understand what he was doing. Now people with medical cannabis licenses can come together in a safe place and experiment with different types of cannabis in an establishment which is already advertising itself as a place where Palestinians and Israelis can heal together.
Smoking the Cannabis Peace Pipe
The fact that a cannabis cafe opened in Israel is news enough. The exact location, however, is also significant.
Smokey Monkey is located in a town called Tira. This name means “The Fort” in both Arabic and Hebrew. It is part of a cluster of Arabic villages near the so-called “Green Line.” This refers to the green ink used to draw the line demarcating the first borders of Israel on the map while the Armistice talks created the country after WWII. The border stood until the Six-Day-War in 1967. After this, the territories beyond this line were subsumed by Israel and are better known today as East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula (although this reverted back to Egypt in 1982).
The area includes farmland considered to be the most fertile in all of Israel. For this reason, by 1976, Tira had 2/3rds of its arable land expropriated by the Israeli state. Today, the area is known for its high crime rate and youth unemployment.
On the cafe’s Facebook page, however, it is clear that so far, Arabs and Jews have come together to treat their illnesses with cannabis in a vastly different way.
Where Israel Stands on The Legalization Discussion
Israel has been a leader in terms of cannabis research, as well as medical legalization. Recreational reform, sadly, continues to stall.
On April 1, 2019, the government decriminalized the use of cannabis by those over the age of 18. Possession of home-grown cannabis is no longer a criminal offense. That said, adults caught in public with small amounts of cannabis were still liable to pay a fine of $275 for the first offense, $550 if caught a second time, and, if caught three times in 7 years, liable for criminal prosecution until this year.
On March 9, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar signed regulation that makes possession and consumption solely an administrative fine — and both a cheaper one, and one that does not increase for a subsequent “offense.” Such regulations also replace the older laws, set in 2019, which expire at the end of this month. Fines are capped at about $150 per offense. Minors, soldiers, police officers, and soldiers serving as prison guards are still excluded from use.
While still not full legalization, this is at least a holding action of the status quo after efforts to enact full recreational legalization failed in November 2020.
Israelis who wish to have their criminal records for possession of cannabis wiped off the books can also apply, with this form, to the Ministry of Justice to have their “crime” expunged.
The patrons of the Smokey Monkey may be the first Israeli cannabis users to be able to enter a cannabis cafe, but of course, they will not be the last.
Marguerite Arnold is a veteran cannabis industry journalist, covering the market from Germany since 2013. Her second book, Green II: Spreading Like Kudzu, about the inside story of the first German cannabis cultivation bid, is on sale now in English and German.