Medical Monday: Exploring Cannabis Culture in Tel Aviv

Exploring Cannabis Culture in Tel Aviv

During my recent trip to Israel, I must admit to being surprised by one thing—just how totally relaxed and open the cannabis smoking culture is there! At least this is certainly the case in Tel Aviv, where I spent three days touring the highlights of the blossoming medicinal cannabis industry.

The medicinal cannabis scene is tightly controlled and regulated, and if I had not already established friendships out there to show me the way to do things, I might have thought it was the same in the recreational scene. I’d already experienced some hostility from customs while coming into Ben Gurion International Airport due to the Moroccan stamps in my passport, and was a little on edge when it came to answering questions about my job.

I’m not unused to “fudging” the details of what my work entails when necessary, and it’s been necessary many times in the past, but still—I felt very strongly that I had to do it in this instance, at least if I didn’t want to be held up for hours answering difficult questions.

But once in the city itself, it soon became clear that the officious vibe given off by the customs officials was in no way reflective of the average Tel Avivian personality. In fact, the citizens of Tel Aviv are an irreverent, unconventional crowd, and are the first to say that they live in a fun, peaceful bubble—a long way from the troubles that affect other regions of the Middle East. Here, everything is Sababa—the first Hebrew word I learn, it basically means “cool” or “all good,” and it pops up repeatedly in almost every conversation I hear from then on.

A big part of that fun, it seems, is consumption of cannabis. On a tour of the city’s bars and clubs one evening, we saw joints openly being rolled on almost every table, and almost every group would be passing one between themselves. Staff, when they appeared, were friendly, chatty and completely unfazed by the blatant illegal consumption going on right under their noses!

It seems that Israel enjoys this unique and surprising cannabis culture partly due to its situation in the Middle East and its proximity to major hash producers such as Lebanon, and the fact that alcohol is traditionally harder to come by, more expensive and not as enjoyable in the stifling heat of the Israeli summer. Whatever the reasons, it’s one of the most open societies I have ever visited when it comes to casual, public consumption of cannabis, much more so than anywhere I can think of in Europe or the United States.