Lawmakers in Israel unanimously voted to pass a bill decriminalizing the use of cannabis in its first reading. The bill, sponsored by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, was approved by the Ministerial Legislation Committee with a 38-0 vote.
The bill means that people caught smoking pot for the first and second time would not be arrested and prosecuted but would only need to pay a fine.
First-time adult offenders will be fined 1,000 shekels ($265), while second-time offenders will be fined 2,000 shekels. Third-time offenders will face a probation period and won’t be charged provided that they accept several possible measures, including participating in a rehabilitation program and surrendering their drivers’ license and gun. Only those caught for the fourth time will be subject to criminal proceedings.
Meanwhile, minors who are caught smoking cannabis will be prosecuted if they do not attend a legally mandated rehabilitation program.
“Getting caught with cannabis should not affect the future of someone who doesn’t lead a criminal lifestyle.” – Israeli legislators
Erdan’s proposed legislation did not specify the exact amount of cannabis that would be subject to fines, but the Anti-Drug Authority has previously recommended that fines will only apply for the possession of over 15 grams of weed.
Before it becomes law, the bill still needs to pass two further readings. And if passed, the legislation will be in effect for three years, which will serve as trial period.
In an accompanying explanation to the bill, lawmakers wrote that getting caught with cannabis should not affect the future of someone “who doesn’t lead a criminal lifestyle.” This explanatory note also stated that cannabis consumption rate among users aged 18 to 40 years old has risen from 5.5% in 2009 to 27% in 2016. Meanwhile, among teenagers, the increase is from 5% in 2009 to 10% in 2016.
“Drug policy should focus on prevention, education, and drug rehabilitation instead of criminalization. The end goal is for a more efficient and even enforcement.” – MK Gilad Erdan
Erdan said that they just want to reduce the harms of cannabis consumption and to avoid stigmatizing as criminals those who do use cannabis. He said that drug policy should focus on prevention, education, and drug rehabilitation instead of criminalization.
Erdan explained that the end goal is for a more efficient and even enforcement.
According the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, almost 9% of Israelis use cannabis. Also, around 25,000 of the country’s population of 8 million carry a license to use cannabis for medical purposes.
“The law is not perfect, but it is already on its way to full legalization. There is still plenty of work ahead.” – MK Tamar Zandberg
It can be recalled that in 2017, hundreds of Israelis had gathered outside the Knesset for a sit-down protest calling for cannabis to be fully legalized.
Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg, who is also the chairwoman of the Knesset Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, said that the law is not perfect, but it is already on its way to full legalization. She admits, though, that there is still plenty of work ahead.
Israel is a known pioneer in the field of medical cannabis research and innovation. However, the drug is still illegal, although it is allowed for specified medical purposes.
In April 2017, it was reported that the Israeli government was considering further liberalization of the country’s recreational cannabis laws. (You can learn more about the country’s position on cannabis through our previous articles, which you can view here and here.)
Likud MK Sharren Haskel also said that while the bill is not exactly what she hoped for, it is a change towards the right direction. Both Haskel and Zandberg had called for the legalization and complete decriminalization of cannabis.