Holy smokes: Israel moves to lessen pot penalties

First-time offenders caught with cannabis will now face fines, rather than incur jail time.

A worker carries sacks of newly harvested cannabis plants at a plantation near Nazareth (photo credit: REUTERS)
A worker carries sacks of newly harvested cannabis plants at a plantation near Nazareth
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The cabinet on Sunday approved a plan to decriminalize marijuana use by firsttime offenders.
If the Knesset approves the proposed reform, people caught with non-medical cannabis will incur fines rather than face jail time, and users may not face criminal charges until after their fourth offense.
“This is an important step toward implementing this new policy, which will emphasize the importance of education instead of criminalization,” said Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who initiated the proposal in January.
An interministerial team will be established to submit legislation and offer regulations and changes needed to implement the proposal.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his support for the move during the weekly cabinet meeting, stressing the importance of this measure, but adding that it should be handled carefully.
Police arrest 23 in drug raid operations‏ (file)
“Of course, this must be done cautiously and in a controlled manner,” said Netanyahu.
“On the one hand, we are open to the future. On the other, we also understand the dangers and we will try to [find] balance between the two.”
According to the proposed “four strikes” policy, a fine would be issued upon the first offense and the offender would not have a criminal record. The fine would double on the second offense and, if someone is caught a third time, the police could close the case if the offender agreed to measures such as joining a rehabilitation program or having his driver’s license or gun license revoked.
After someone is caught for the fourth time, the police would launch criminal proceedings.
The process would be different for minors, who would be directed to treatment with their first offense, while the second would see the juvenile offender enter a rehabilitation center. Criminal proceedings would begin with a third offense.
“The State of Israel could not shut its eyes to the changes being implemented regarding cannabis use and its influence,” said Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, comparing the move to what has been done in other Western countries.
“In Portugal, for instance, the use of cannabis is decriminalized and studies have shown a decrease in cannabis use there. In France, we have seen the opposite effect – they started criminalizing [cannabis use] and [now] there is an increase.”
The right way to deal with cannabis use, she said, is through education not intimidation.
“The decision we just passed in the cabinet will be sure to educate our youth that using drugs is wrong and might harm them. This policy is the right step in the right direction,” she said.
MK Sharren Haskel, chairwoman of the Knesset Caucus for Medical Cannabis, however, said the measure is important but “not enough.”
“The decision made by the cabinet contradicts the recommendations made by the special experts team that revised the policies. The recommendations made by the Justice Ministry and Anti- Drug Authority said that criminalization does not work and wastes resources. This measure does not change [that] reality.
Therefore, I will keep fighting until we have a full-fledged legalization of cannabis.”