Israel officially decriminalises cannabis

Israel makes move to “decriminalise cannabis”

5 mins read
  • Israel’s cabinet passed a bill on Sunday decriminalising cannabis use in the country.
  • Cannabis still can’t be used in public, but incarceration will only be used if a person is caught reoffending 4 times.
  • However, country’s Green party say this is not enough – not true decriminalisation
  • In some ways laws have become more strict for first-time offenders.

Israel’s cabinet approved a proposal calling for the decriminalisation of the use of cannabis on Sunday 5 March.

The proposal, drafted by Public Security and Justice ministers, prevents first, second, or even third-time offenders caught with cannabis in public. Under new laws, they will instead face a fine, rather than jail time.

Public Security minister, Gilad Erdan, who led the reform, said: “The government’s approval is an important step on the way to implement the new policy, which will emphasise public information and treatment instead of criminal enforcement.”

They have now set up a cross-bench team to help implement the new drugs policy, providing amendments to regulations concerning the current law on cannabis in Israel.

The chairwoman of the Knesset Special Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), commented on the significance of the bill: “this is an important step, but not the end of the road. It sends a message that a million of Israelis who consume marijuana aren’t criminals.

“We will carry on following the details in the committee and ensure that the change is implemented.”

The proposal’s recommendations,  based on the conclusions of a committee headed by Public Security Ministry director-general, Rotem Peleg, were accepted by Public Security minister last night.

The panel recommended switching the focus on cannabis usage from the criminal level to an educational one, and by expanding responses to marijuana use beyond opening criminal files and prosecuting users.

According to the new policy, first-time offenders that are caught using marijuana in a public place will incur a fine of 1,000 shekels ($271), but, the offender will not face criminal charges. The fine will be doubled on the second offence. The third offence will lead to probation, with the record of the offence only being expunged after a brief period. Only on the fourth offence will criminal charges be pressed.

The money from these fines will go to financing antidrug education and treatment in Israel.

According to the new policy, if a minor is caught using cannabis he would only be investigated if he refuses to take part in a treatment program, Erdan said.

Erdan also said that Israel’s cannabis arrest policy was reexamined due to legalisation efforts around the world, which is a good sign, as it shows that countries are paying attention to the legalisation efforts of other Nations worldwide.

Not True Decriminalisation

“Before this ‘decriminalization,’ first offenders weren’t prosecuted or fined,” – Lebovich

Leafly is reporting that the new laws aren’t just a step in the right direction. Oren Lebovitch, Israel’s Green Leaf party chairman, sees his country’s latest reform as a disappointing half step. “If this were real decriminalization you wouldn’t be prosecuted for personal use and the old records would be expunged,” he said. “We still have a long way to go.”

The Leafly article goes into more detail about the fines given before prosecution if you’re caught with cannabis in Israel under the proposed new laws: “First-time offenders caught using cannabis for personal use will still be charged and prosecuted, unless they are willing to admit the offence and pay a $270 fine. Second offenders, same deal, but the fine doubles to $550—a steep price in a country where the average monthly pre-tax salary is $2500. A third offence results in the loss of your driver’s license and you’re sent to rehab. The fourth time you face up to 3 years in jail, depending on the judge’s discretion.

“Before this ‘decriminalization,’ first offenders weren’t prosecuted or fined,” says Lebovich, “so basically this measure makes things worse. If lawmakers agree that cannabis isn’t a crime why prosecute at all?”

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Thankfully, there will be two months of working on this bill to improve it before it is passed.

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This article has been updated to reflect developments in this story.

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