Legalization of cannabis is one of the platforms of the coalition of multiple parties which agreed to establish a new Israeli Government on June 02, 2021. The promise to legalize cannabis, if implemented, would build on  prior legislation which has decriminalized  certain simple possession of cannabis offences. Israel has the most advanced cannabis research centers in the world and has a long-established history of authorized use of cannabis for medical purposes. There have been various proposals to fully legalize cannabis for regulated recreational use. However, these proposals  were not previously implemented, in part, because of Israel’s long standing  political stalemate. Now, it appears that Israel’s proposed new Government coalition could secure sufficient votes in Israel’s Knesset to pass new cannabis legislation as promised.

The  possibilities for new commercial and recreational opportunities for the cannabis industry in Israel parallels developments in the United States. In early 2021, New York State passed legislation which authorized multiple categories of licenses for cannabis production, distribution, and research. In April, 2021, New Mexico became the 17th US State to legalize marijuana. On May 24, 2021, New Mexico received a commitment for a 300-million-dollar investment following a memorandum of understanding with the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) which will enable the establishment of a dedicated center for medical cannabis research.  

 Possession, sale, or distribution of cannabis other than for the limited purposes of medical research authorized by the DEA remains a Federal Offence. Although, the  current US administration has signaled that it will not be actively enforcing Federal laws regarding simple possession of cannabis, this has no legal effect. A recent decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of  Appeals upheld a Federal Tax Court decision which disallowed millions of dollars business expenses related to revenues from a cannabis business. The Appeals Court, rejected an appeal by Patients Mutual Assistance Collective Corp, doing business as Harborside Health Center one of the largest marijuana dispensaries in the United States, finding that  the federal prohibition of marijuana precludes exclusion or deduction of business expenses from taxable revenues from a cannabis business.

Travelers to the United States and visa applicants from Israel should pay close attention to US Federal and not State laws regarding cannabis.The Federal Immigration Laws apply to anyone who has ever used marijuana even if such use was legal under State Law. The Federal Controlled Substance Act may also apply to anyone who is or has been being employed in the fast-growing cannabis industry.  Federal Immigration laws  related to controlled substances affect visa applicants regardless of whether or not they have had prior criminal convictions in Israel or elsewhere. Violations of U.S. controlled substance laws for noncitizens can cause serious immigration problems including bars to temporary non-immigrant or permanent immigrant visas and admission at the border or an airport.  If a visa applicant admits to a US Consul that he or she has ever possessed marijuana, a visa is likely to be denied.  Some activities resulting from employment in the cannabis industry could also be considered to be trafficking under the Federal Controlled Substance Act. Failure to discuss such use, employment or commercial activities may be considered to be a misrepresentation in a visa application. Any such misrepresentation will remain permanently on a non-citizen’s immigration record even if Federal Law is eventually changed to legalize cannabis use and distribution.

Until such time as there are changes in the United States’ Federal Laws, non-US Citizens seeking to visit or obtain US visas should avoid using cannabis or working in the cannabis industry even if cannabis becomes legal in Israel.