Erdan: Criminalizing weed has failed

Israel has one of the world’s highest per capita rates of legal cannabis use, with more than 21,000 people medically licensed to use marijuana.

A worker touches a cannabis plant at a growing facility for the Tikun Olam company near the northern city of Safed (photo credit: REUTERS/NIR ELIAS)
A worker touches a cannabis plant at a growing facility for the Tikun Olam company near the northern city of Safed
(photo credit: REUTERS/NIR ELIAS)
The current policy of criminalizing marijuana has failed, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Wednesday during a hearing on a bill he has spearheaded to decriminalize public use of cannabis, which passed its first reading in the Knesset in March.
The Labor, Welfare and Health Committee held its first discussion on the bill, according to which the use of cannabis for personal consumption would not be considered a criminal offense until the fourth time someone is found to be using it.
According to the bill, those caught for the first time would be fined NIS 1,000 (about $282), and twice that when caught for the second time. On the third occurrence, the case would be closed under a conditional agreement, under which the offender agrees not smoke again – and on the fourth occasion, criminal proceedings would be opened. The law would not apply to minors or soldiers, nor to those who already have a criminal record.
“The bill embodies very important and significant changes in the policy of enforcement against drug users in Israel,” Erdan said during the discussion. “The current policy has failed and has not caused a decrease in the use of drugs. Cannabis is a dangerous drug, and there has been a significant increase in its use.... But the right way to operate is via the path of education, prevention and rehabilitation rather than criminal enforcement against regular citizens.
Already over the past year, there has not been one arrest over personal use.”
Erdan called on the committee to hasten and complete the work on the bill, “because there is a certain probability that this Knesset will be dispersed.”
The bill has to undergo two more votes in the Knesset before it can become law.
Meretz MK Ilan Gilon said that the bill still treats cannabis stronger than the law treats alcohol, which he said is a more harmful substance. However, he sees the bill as an important step in the right direction.
Committee chairman Eli Elalouf said the committee will hold intensive discussions on the subject.
Israel has one of the world’s highest per capita rates of legal cannabis use, with more than 21,000 people medically licensed to use marijuana.

Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.