Time has come to re-examine cannabis prohibition, Israel's police chief says

National Police Chief Yochanan Danino made remark while speaking to high school students in Beit Shemesh.

(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The cause of marijuana legalization received a boost from an unlikely source on Wednesday, when Israel Police Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino said it is time for the government and police to reexamine their policies on the use of cannabis and study how other countries were dealing with the matter.
“I think the time has come for the Israel Police, together with the state, to reexamine their stance on cannabis. I think we must sit and study what’s happening around the world,” he said.
Speaking to high school students in Beit Shemesh, Dani - no also said he was aware that cannabis “has become an issue that is much more a part of the public debate than it was in the past, and more citizens are asking that the use of cannabis be legalized.”
The possession or sale of cannabis is illegal in Israel. However, more than 20,000 Israelis are issued licenses and prescribed cannabis for medical purposes. In addition, according to a 2013 survey by Channel 2, 20 percent of adult Israelis say they have used marijuana for non-medical purposes, and nearly half (46%) say they believe personal use of marijuana should be legalized.
In a Rosh Hashana interview with Israel Hayom last year, Danino appeared to express support for reducing enforcement against casual users, saying, “I’m not concerned about somebody who’s rolling a joint on their balcony in this neighborhood or that. I look at the dangerous drug addict, the one who robs and steals in order to get his fix.”
Absent from Danino’s comments was any mention of the attorney-general’s directives – issued in 1985 and updated in 2003 – that individuals possessing small amounts of cannabis for personal us should not be charged on a first offense. Even on subsequent offenses, officers were directed to use their judgment.
Regardless, though, police figures show that in 2013 alone, 23,312 Israelis were arrested for drug charges related to personal use – possession that was not for sale. This is nearly 300 more than the 23,053 arrested in 2012.
Those statistics came up in comments to The Jerusalem Post Wednesday from Oren Leibovitch, the head of the Green Leaf pro-legalization party and editor-in-chief of news portal Cannabis.com.
“We are tired of talk, we want action,” he said. “Two years ago he [Danino] said that people who use cannabis for personal use shouldn’t be arrested, but then we saw an increase in arrests. Maybe there’s a communication problem between him and his officers.”
Around the same time that Danino spoke, the Northern District police sent a message out to journalists around the country, detailing the arrest of a man caught with a single, small cannabis plant in a ceramic pot.
Along with press releases about busts of large growing operations and traffickers stopped on the border, police spokesmen send out press releases on a near-daily basis about busts for minor amounts of cannabis.
In addition to medical marijuana users, in recent years there has been an explosion in the number of Israelis growing marijuana inside the country, largely to compensate for the drug’s soaring prices due to Egypt’s border fence and increased police enforcement.
Organized crime has also gotten in on the action, renting out suburban houses that are turned into growing facilities for hundreds of plants at a time. There have been instances of medical marijuana making its way onto the black market, as well.
Over the past year or so, several politicians have admitted to having smoked cannabis and/or have expressed their support for decriminalization of some sort.
In late December, a few months before he became an MK on the Bayit Yehudi list, Yinon Magal said in a Channel 2 interview that he had smoked marijuana “not that long ago,” adding, “What happens in Goa [India], you know.”
Magal wrote on Facebook Wednesday that Danino’s comments followed a meeting he had held with Magal and other new MKs recently, at which he reportedly told them to reexamine state policies that see large amounts of manpower and resources invested in the prohibition of cannabis use.
The Bayit Yehudi MK also said he and Danino saw eye-to-eye on a proposal that Magal said he had made about ceasing to arrest people for personal cannabis use, as long as they were otherwise law-abiding citizens.
MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) admitted last year that she liked to smoke a joint and watch Game of Thrones . She has been a vocal sup - porter of legalization, along with far-right and libertarian former Likud MK Moshe Feiglin, whose wife is a medical marijuana user.
Earlier this month, Zandberg said she believed more support for medical marijuana could lead to increased support for legalizing cannabis for non-medical purposes.
“We have a great opportunity for progress. The public is ready for it and wants change,” said Zandberg, whose comments came ahead of a speech she gave at a cannabis legalization rally in Tel Aviv.
A counterargument for Danino’s comments was not long in coming, in the form of a statement by the Israel Anti-Drug Authority.
Declaring that “a statement like [Danino’s] shouldn’t come from a law enforcement official,” the authority’s chairman, Tzvi Hendel, claimed that “marijuana is a dangerous drug, a drug that does great damage to everyone, in particular to young people up to age 25, whose bodies and minds are still developing.”
He said marijuana could have serious negative mental and physical effects on users, especially young ones, though he added that he supported a well-regulated medical marijuana industry.