Israel officially decriminalizes marijuana use

Several European countries, as well as a number of US states, have legalised marijuana in recent years, both for medical and recreational use
Luis Robayo (AFP)
Those found using cannabis in public will face fines, rather than criminal charges

The Israeli government on Sunday officially approved the decriminalization of marijuana use, making Israel, already at the forefront of medical marijuana research, the first country in the Middle East or Africa to decriminalize the substance.

The cabinet voted to approve a proposal put forth by the Ministries of Public Security and Justice that will shift the focus on marijuana enforcement from criminal to educational, bringing criminal charges as a "last resort" only.

Under the new policy, first-time offenders caught using marijuana in public will be fined 1,000 shekels ($271), but not prosecuted.

The fine will be doubled on the second offence. A third offence will incur a probation, with the record expunged after a brief period, and criminal charges will only be brought on a fourth offense.

The money from fines will be allocated towards anti-drug educational programming.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who initiated the proposal, said that "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."

Jack Guez (AFP)

An inter-ministerial committee will now be established to propose amendments and regulations to the reform, as well as to oversee the changes necessary for its implementation.

The chairwoman of the Knesset Special Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, Tamar Zandberg of the left-leaning Meretz party, said that "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."

Israel is already a leader in medical cannabis research, with growers collaborating with scientific institutions to perform clinical trials and develop cannabis strains to treat a range of diseases.

Last year, Israeli doctors prescribed cannabis to about 25,000 patients suffering from cancer, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress and degenerative diseases.

American firms have invested around $50 million in licensing Israeli medical marijuana patents, cannabis agro-tech start-ups, and other companies developing cannabis technologies, as scientists struggle to navigate the government red-tape surrounding marijuana research in the US.

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