Fines for cannabis use skyrocket amid COVID pandemic - report

Since 2018, Israel has been reporting more indictments against home growers and less against dealers.

Police are seen on Jerusalem's Jaffa Street amid the coronavirus pandemic, on February 10, 2021. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Police are seen on Jerusalem's Jaffa Street amid the coronavirus pandemic, on February 10, 2021.
Police data for 2020 show a drastic increase in the number of fines issued against Israelis for the personal use of cannabis, Walla News reported on Friday.
According to the data, Israel Police issued a total of 17,646 fines last year, a sharp 70% increase from the amount issued the year prior.
In 2019, Israel partially instituted the fines as part of a heavily criticized "responsible decriminalization" campaign by former public security minister and current Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan.
When comparing only the time period of April to December, the data still shows a nearly 30% increase in fines issued, with the most dramatic increase seen during the months of November and December, which saw more than 1,000 additional fines issued against users.
Under the rules of Erdan's reform, instead of immediately being criminalized for personal use of cannabis, police were allowed to issue a fine instead, provided the users possessed fewer than 15 grams of cannabis and were not found driving at the time.
First-time offenders receive a NIS 1,000 fine. Second-time offenders – within five years from the first offense – receive a NIS 2,000 fine. Third time offenders go to mandated counseling and fourth time offenders are criminalized.
The plan was criticized for three main aspects, the first being the fact that police were still allowed to criminalize recreational users based on their own personal judgement.
Secondly, the plan was criticized for expanding socioeconomic gaps, with activists seeing the move as a punishment that only intimidates the economically disadvantaged from smoking, while the financially affluent are free to smoke recreational cannabis with fear of a much less severe punishment.
Finally, the lack of clear guidelines regarding home growing leading to the difference between criminalization and acquittal left home-growers criminalized, with police retaining the option to enter and raid homes without a warrant if they suspect cannabis is being smoked inside.
THE REPORT details that while 2019 saw 9,377 fines of NIS 1,000 fines issued and 1,004 of NIS 2,000 given, 2020 saw a dramatic increase of more than 50% to 14,433 for first time offenders, and a more than tripling of second time offenders to 3,198. 
Five additional fines were given, likely due to court orders, three for NIS 500 and two for NIS 5,000.
"The high amount of fines indicates that non-discrimination is not enough in this area, and that the time has come for a legislative regulation of the legalization aspect of the cannabis drug," attorney Susie Ozsinay-Aranya, who specializes in criminal, public law and legislation, told Walla News.
"The modern Western world is largely advancing towards decriminalization or complete legalization, and Israel must adapt to the social norms that exist in enlightened democracies, out of an understanding that the world has changed and that cannabis use is a reality that must be addressed," she said.
"It is important to understand that the train has already left the station, and we just have to choose when to get on," she concluded, according to Walla.
While Israel's government seems to have understood that the march towards recreational cannabis decriminalization and legalization is inevitable, approving two draft decriminalization and legalization bills on the Knesset floor last summer, the proposed joint bill to regulate the cannabis market did not have time to be called on for a first reading before the government disbanded.
This leads many to wonder why, at the same time that former justice minister Avi Nissenkorn was announcing that a regulated cannabis market was only nine months away, fines for cannabis were at their highest.
In addition to the fines, Israel Police also recorded a rise in indictments for home growers with 534 served in 2020, up from 485 in 2019 and 439 in 2018.
Dealers, on the other hand, have actually been seeing an increasingly sharp drop in indictments, with 3,487 in 2020, down from 4,197 in 2019 and 4,392 in 2018.
This begs the question: Why does Israel Police seemingly target more recreational users and fewer dealers, while the overwhelming majority of politicians, both in Israel and in the rest of the developed world, continue to push for exactly the opposite?