Smokey Monkey, located in the Arab city of Tira, is a haven for smokers of all backgrounds. But will trouble with local conservatives, drug dealers and the Israel police prove too much for its owner?
After two years working as a nurse in a psychiatric hospital, Karam Shbeeta wanted something different in life. So he decided to open up a marijuana coffee shop in the Arab-Israeli city of Tira.
This was not an obvious career choice: places dedicated to smoking and purchasing marijuana in broad daylight are rare in Israel’s Arab society, where conservative views still prevail when it comes to the “devil’s lettuce.”
Tira, located 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Tel Aviv, has high youth unemployment and has also endured high crime rates in recent years. It can be a stressful place for residents and visitors alike, and is unlikely to ever be mistaken for Amsterdam. But on a recent visit to Shbeeta’s coffee shop, everything is calmness personified.
“I managed to build a community – one that embraces diversity and welcomes everyone, Arabs and Jews alike,” says Shbeeta (also spelled Shabita) during a guided tour of his coffee shop, called Smokey Monkey. And these are not just empty words: his shop attracts clients from across the region, including nearby Jewish cities and towns.
Shbeeta, 29, lives in Tira with his wife and daughter. He studied nursing and worked in that profession for six years, mostly in psychiatric institutions. During that time, he enrolled in a course about medical use of marijuana (more commonly known as cannabis in Israel) and later found himself working in that field.
“In my previous job, I was sitting in an office and saw how the patients who came to buy marijuana couldn’t try the product before buying it,” Shbeeta recounts. “The range of marijuana varieties is wide and increasing on a daily basis. Each strain can affect people differently.”
He was frustrated that he couldn’t find the right “match” for his patients and was concerned about people suffering harm by using the wrong kind of medication. This motivated him to open his own place.