Israelis smoke pain away at medical cannabis cafe

STORY: At this cafe in the Arab town of Tira in Israel, you can buy far more than just a coffee.

Here, people legally and freely buy, smoke or use medicinal marijuana.

Smokey Monkey is the first cafe of its kind in the country.

Owner, former psychiatric nurse Karam Shbeeta, says he is on a mission to change the mentality around those who use cannabis for medical purposes.

Inspired by the number of people using cannabis from illegal black market sources, he thought he could be the missing link, while also helping those with chronic pain consume the drug safely.

"Most of the people who come here suffer from chronic pain, from work injuries, violence injuries, car accidents and similar cases, back pain, chronic pain, and very difficult chronic illnesses. Of course people come with their medical file, and according to their files we check if the person is suitable or not (for the use of medical cannabis)."

The cafe has received a mixed response, though.

Shbeeta said when he first opened the shop, people feared it would be the first step in turning Tira in to Amsterdam.

He even received death threats and threats to burn the cafe down.

But little by little, he said, people started to understand the concept.

According to the Palestinian Centre for Israeli Studies, there are about 100,000 patients who use medicinal marijuana in the country.

Former soldier Michael Chen is one such user. He says it helps him deal with past traumas.

"I can hear people around me saying that this is drugs, maybe it is dangerous, maybe it's one step before heroin. People, it is not true, I've tried the whole treatment from the other side, from the doctors, really I promise you, nothing helped me, but this plant is amazing, you just have to know how to use it right."

In October 2021, the Israeli Knesset approved, in a preliminary reading, a bill allowing the use of cannabis for medical purposes, paving the way for cafes such as Smokey Monkey.