(photo credit: INIMAGE)
The government is shifting toward decriminalizing – but not legalizing – recreational cannabis use, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan announced on Thursday.
Erdan said the policy is “decriminalization with responsibility,” which would still include fines, but not a criminal record, for possessing more than 15 grams of marijuana.
Erdan noted that his plan still needs the cabinet’s approval.
According to the “four strikes” policy, after the first offense, a fine would be issued, but the violator would not acquire a criminal record. The sum would double after the second offense, and is someone is caught for the third time, the police could close the case if the offender agreed to a number of measures, including joining a rehabilitation program or having his driver’s or gun license revoked.
After someone is caught for the fourth time, the police would launch criminal procedures.
For minors, after the first strike the youth would be directed to treatment. The second strike would see the offender enter a rehabilitation center, and after the third offense criminal procedures would begin.
“We want to educate our youth that using drugs is damaging,” Erdan said. “On the other hand, the police do not have the right tools to deal with the damage caused by using drugs. For example, police do not know how to deal with people who drive under the influence of drugs. This is why we must have a broad and conclusive policy change.”
Erdan said he has always taken this topic seriously and would not make irresponsible decisions concerning it, decisions made without understanding the policy’s consequences.
“The legitimacy of using drugs has only grown among the public,” he said.
MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) said Erdan’s plan is far from perfect, but it definitely shows a change in the attitude toward cannabis users.
“I see it as positive and essential,” Gilon said. “For years Israel had an old and stigmatizing policy toward cannabis users that mostly benefited the industry’s stakeholders. It is time to put an end to it.”
MK Sharren Haskel (Likud), chairwoman of the Knesset Caucus for Medical Cannabis, expressed satisfaction, saying her long struggle has finally brought results.
“We won!” she said. “The public security minister, the last objector, announced his support of canceling the policy of criminalizing cannabis users.”
Haskel said this is only the beginning.
“I will continue to fight to change the law and bring justice to a million Israeli [cannabis users].”
MK Merav Ben-Ari (Kulanu) said it is about time the country aligned with the West’s treatment of marijuana users.
“They are not criminals and there is no reason that they will have a police record,” she said.
The only MK to speak out against the move was Oren Hazan (Likud), who said he fears the policy will lead to a tidal wave of drug dealers.
“A fine is not like a criminal record, which deters those who wish to take advantage of the situation to earn easy money,” he said. “It is a dangerous policy for our young generation and for the entire State of Israel.”
Senior figures from NGOs that promote legalization expressed satisfaction with Erdan’s policy proposal. The co-founder of the New Liberal Movement said this proposal marks the end of the obsessive persecution of cannabis users.
“Not only did [the prosecution] not benefit anyone, it harmed individual rights and wasted millions of shekels of taxpayers’ money,” Boaz Arad said. “The decision to change the policy is brave, important and promotes Israeli citizens’ freedom to choose without fear of criminalization. It is an opportunity to say it one more time – cannabis users are not criminals, and using it in a responsible way and in a controlled manner is not any more harmful than drinking alcohol.”
iCAN: Israel-Cannabis, the NGO that runs the annual CannaTech conference, which promotes the legalization of cannabis, also welcomed the announcement.
“This change will significantly increase entrepreneurship and investment in cannabis in Israel as the old stigma of criminal cannabis disappears,” said Saul Kaye, the NGO’s co-founder.