Pot smokers continue to light up in Tel Aviv

Fines, criminal penalties fail to deter.

The battle over Cannabis (Marijuana) in Israel
Under the shade of a ficus tree on Tel Aviv’s iconic Rothschild Boulevard, Itzik was busy rolling a joint of marijuana mixed with tobacco, as people strolled by or sipped espresso, enjoying the warm Sunday afternoon.
The 62-year-old was happy to hear that the cabinet had moved forward a plan to decriminalize marijuana usage for up to three offenses.
“The public is becoming a lot more open,” said Itzik, who has smoked marijuana for nearly 50 years and declined to state his last name for fear of being fined.
Though the cabinet on Sunday approved government support for the semi-decriminalization bill originally proposed by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Tel Aviv has long been tolerant of cannabis use. The website Marijuana Travels features a glowing review of the city, giving it an 8 out of 10 on permissiveness of smoking in public.
“In Tel Aviv, almost every other person is smoking pot,” the website boasts.
“I think it [the cabinet decision] relieves a bit of the stress of smoking in public,” said Omri, 19, who was caught as a minor smoking marijuana in public. But she worried that fining marijuana users will create a burden for the smokers. “I hope it doesn’t become a way for the police to make money from us,” said Omri, an avid smoker who was eating a vegan shwarma on King George Street. “Either way I’m still smoking,” she said.
Itzik said that the cabinet approved the fines just to assuage those against marijuana decriminalization. “The fines are just to appease the public.
The police won’t enforce it,” he said, and then went back to rolling his joint.
According to the cabinet’s proposed reform, the money from fines is slated to be used for antidrug treatment and education. The Tel Aviv police, which maintains a lax enforcement policy on marijuana usage, did not return a request for comment on how it would enforce the cabinet decision if it becomes law.
The plan has critics, including leading legalization advocate Oren Lebovitch, the founder of the Green Leaf party, who spoke to The Jerusalem Post by phone.
“Erdan’s plan is a fake decriminalization plan, because personal cannabis use is still treated as a crime,” Lebovitch said. “Instead of actually legalizing cannabis, the police now have more tools to enforce against it.”
The “four strikes” proposal would fine first-time offenders NIS 1,000, and double that for a second offense. The third offense would lead to probation with a criminal record that would be expunged after a short time, and the fourth offense to criminal proceedings.
Lebovitch also lambasted the cabinet for not moving to expunge the criminal records of those who were convicted of personal marijuana possession.
“Thousands of people have to live their lives with these criminal records. If it’s not criminal, why doesn’t Erdan remove their records?” Saul Kaye, a cofounder of iCAN, an Israeli company that promotes cannabis start-ups and hi-tech innovation, said decriminalization is “another step toward creating a Canna-Tech global industry, with Israel at the forefront.
“This step, although not legitimizing use, is due to reduce the negative perception of the plant as ‘immoral’ or ‘criminal,’” Kaye said in a statement.
For Gal, 24, a daily marijuana user, the biggest effect of the decision might be a price decrease as the marijuana supply grows. “I hope it will lower the prices. Smoking marijuana in the evening costs me three hours of work!” said Gal, adding, “If they are already accepting that it is okay to smoke, why not make it legal?”