The Public Security Minister of Israel, Gilad Erdan, just came out in support of new rules for handling the illegal use of cannabis in Israel. The change of opinion comes after the Justice Ministry took a fresh look at the issue, and ended up recommending a softer stance on cannabis.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said in a statement, “Israel cannot shut its eyes to the changes being made across the world in respect to marijuana consumption and its effects.”
The policy would decriminalize the illegal use of cannabis, enforcing fines – instead of criminal penalties – on using cannabis in public. However, growing and selling the plant would remain illegal.
“On the one hand, we are opening ourselves up to the future,” says Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in remarks to his cabinet. “On the other hand, we understand the dangers and will try to balance the two.”
Hurdles remain for the proposal, as the MidEast country’s Parliament – called the Knesset – needs to approve the proposed policy.
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As The New York Times reported, Minister Erdan says, “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.”
The New York Times also reported that in Israel, there were less than 200 arrests for the offense in 2015 – the result of relaxed enforcement of the current laws Israel has on the books. Technically, under current rule of law, people caught using the plant can face fines and jail time.
Many US states approved medical and recreational marijuana ballot initiatives this past November, leaving American onlookers curious as to why it took so long for Israel to jump on the decriminalization bandwagon.
It’s interesting that a country could remain anti-pot, especially as it’s the country at the forefront of most scientific research involving the plant. For example, Israel-based scientist, Raphael Mechoulam, is known as the “Father of Cannabis.” He is the one who first laid the scientific foundation upon which all modern cannabis knowledge is built.
At a recent medical marijuana conference in Denver, Dr. Mechoulam made a clear call for more clinical research on cannabinoids, which are the therapeutic components naturally found within the cannabis plant.
Israel does have medical marijuana, though. There are about 25-thousand Israeli medical users. The list of qualifying conditions includes the side effects of cancer and epilepsy, among other ailments.
Recreational use is not on the table this time around. Instead, the new policy would only give first time offenders a 1,000-shekel ($265) fine. Fines increase as the number of offenses increase, and criminal charges could be levied for a fourth offense – especially if caught using in public.
“I do not take this issue lightly,” says Erdan. “Legitimacy to drug use has increased, and the number of users has increased. The awareness of the dangers and damages from regular use is dropping,” reports the Israeli news outlet, Haaretz.
Lawmaker Tamar Zandberg is the chair of the Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse. She says Erdan’s decision was “right and brave” and calls the new policy a “big step forward.”