Recreational marijuana users, and those clandestinely self-medicating in Israel are celebrating the country’s recent cannabis decriminalization after an announcement from the Israeli cabinet.
The new rules imply that first time offenders caught using marijuana in public places will receive a fine of $270. Only after a fourth offense will criminal charges be laid.
The Haaretz covered this news saying it is “high time” the reform took place in Israel. Public Security Minister, Gilad Erdan, who formulated a proposal in conjunction with the Justice Ministry, led the reform initiative. An inter-ministerial team will be put in place to implement the policy and propose amendments to the regulations if needed.
From criminal to informational
Erdan sees the approval of the new policy government as an important step in emphasizing public reform. Israel will now move from criminal enforcement to information and education-based action.
Special Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse Chairwoman, MK Tamar Zandberg, said that although the approval of the new policy is a very important step, it is only a start. The message to more than a million Israelis using marijuana is that they are no longer considered criminals.
Cannabis decriminalization is not legalization
The proposal was the outcome of the conclusions reported by a committee headed by Public Security Ministry Director, General Rotem Peleg.
The panel recommended the current shift to administrative fines and campaigns to educate the public to replace the focus on criminal pursuit and prosecution. “Prosecution should be seen as a last resort,” were Minister Erdan’s words in January.
Law enforcement will implement progressively harsher penalties for repeat offenders. First-time offenders caught using marijuana publicly will be fined, but not criminally charged. The fine will double on second offense, and the third offense will lead to probation. Only on a fourth offense will criminal charges be laid.
Anti-drug campaigns and treatment
Revenue collected from fines will finance anti-drug treatment and education. Should the offenders be minors, they will only be criminally scrutinized if they refuse to partake in treatment programs.
Erdan sys that legalization efforts from around the globe led to Israel re-visiting its marijuana policy of arrest. Now the government hopes to reduce the number of people using cannabis through its anti-drug campaigns.
Marijuana reform takes time
If the world follows Israel’s example, many people now considered as criminals will be ordinary citizens again. They would not have to live in fear of arrest for a victimless “crime.” In the 1930’s alcohol prohibition got lifted overnight. But though marijuana is safer, it has spent longer under the shadow of prohibition.
Meanwhile, some of the US legislation that inspired Israeli politicians to decriminalize marijuana may be on the verge of being overturned by the conflict between federal and state laws.
The world and cannabis: two steps forward, one step back
Cannabis decriminalization is an interesting gray area somewhere between stern laws and legalization. However, it is a model that has worked successfully in several European countries. But while global progress towards accepting cannabis, even recreationally, is advancing, we also see instances where countries are taking a harsher attitude.
Nonetheless, Israelis can now feel more comfortable about recreational use and “unofficial” medical use. It certainly is a significant milestone for the country, and there seems to be every reason to believe that the results will be positive.