Israel’s cabinet recently approved a proposal to decriminalize the recreational use of marijuana, permitting it to go to a vote in the country’s parliament, the Knesset. If it passes there, as anticipated, first-time marijuana offenders will face a fine of 1,000 shekels ($270 USD), but criminal charges will only be brought on a fourth offense. Gilad Erdan, Public Security Minister who led the reform effort said, “The government’s approval is an important step on the way to implement the new policy, which will emphasize public information and treatment instead of criminal enforcement.”
Legislator Tamar Zandberg of the center-left Meretz party, chair of the Knesset Special Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, stated, “This is an important step, but not the end of the road. It sends a message that a million of Israelis who consume marijuana aren’t criminals. We will carry on following the details in the committee and ensure that the change is implemented.” The proposal was based on the suggestions of a committee headed by Public Security Ministry director-general Rotem Peleg, calling for a change of focus from criminal prosecution of marijuana users to fines and educational campaigns.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked stated, “Israel cannot shut its eyes to the changes being made across the world in respect to marijuana consumption and its effect. Israel is already a world leader in medical cannabis, with some 25,000 registered in its national program, and cutting-edge research underway. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, almost 9% of Israelis use marijuana, although many believe the figure could be higher. For now, Israel’s predominantly conservative government is only going so far. Farming and selling marijuana would continue to be criminal offenses under the proposal.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated, “On the one hand we are opening ourselves up to the future. On the other hand, we understand the dangers and will try to balance the two.” However, even some conservatives are coming around. MK Sharren Haskel of the right-wing Likud, chair of the Knesset Caucus for Medical Cannabis, said the proposal is “not enough.” Asserting that “criminalization does not work and wastes resources.” She stated, “I will keep fighting until we have a full-fledged legalization of cannabis.”
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