On Sunday, March 5, Israel’s government voted to support legislation decriminalizing recreational marijuana use.
The new policy, which still requires the Israeli parliament’s ratification, would eliminate criminal charges for those caught smoking cannabis or with a small amount in their possession.
The selling and cultivation of marijuana would still be considered criminal offenses, but those who smoke occasionally – as many Israelis do – would no longer be subject to the stigma of having a criminal record.
Those caught with small amounts would be fined rather than face arrest and prosecution. Criminal charges would only apply to those caught repeatedly.
“Israel cannot shut its eyes to the changes being made across the world in respect to marijuana consumption and its effects,” said Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
Passing such legislation would put Israel on a par with some U.S. states, European countries and the South American nation of Uruguay in terms of marijuana policy.
“On the one hand we are opening ourselves up to the future,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an address to his cabinet. “On the other hand, we understand the dangers and will try to balance the two.”
Shaked said that authorities would now be able to direct their energies towards drug abuse education and treatment.
Many Israelis smoke marijuana – reports indicate that nearly nine percent of the population uses cannabis but some estimate the numbers to be higher. Among Israeli teens, according to authorities, the rate of marijuana use has doubled in recent years – 2015 statistics showed that 10.2 percent of teens in Israel were smoking cannabis.
Apparently, Israeli police already have become rather lenient with recreational weed smokers.
From Yahoo! News:
“Israeli police figures showed only 188 people were arrested in 2015 for recreational use of marijuana, a 56 percent drop since 2010, and many of those apprehended in that time were never charged.”
Somewhat surprisingly, the new legislation proposal received strong support from anti-drug factions within the government.
Israeli Anti-Drug Authority chief scientist Yossi Harel-Frisch said:
“We are not decriminalizing cannabis. What we are trying to do, on the one hand, is to reduce the amount of people using it because we know the drug is dangerous, especially for children and youths whose brains are developing and are vulnerable to damage both cognitively and behaviorally.”
On the other hand, said Harel-Frisch, “We don’t want to criminalize every young person who happens to be at a party and tries using cannabis once or twice for leisure.”
Young Israelis with drug abuse charges on their criminal records “won’t have the same range of options in the army and in jobs,” he said, and the new policy is intended to “reduce this negative outcome.”
Israel has been a pioneer in more than one way regarding marijuana – medical cannabis has been legal in Israel since the early 1990s, and in recent years the nation has also become one of the world’s leaders in cannabis research.
In 2016, the Israeli government announced that it plans to begin exporting medical cannabis within the next few years. If that happens, Israeli farmers could benefit enormously, along with companies that manufacture various medical marijuana products, such as edibles.
Israel’s decriminalization policy is another step in the right direction in terms of international acknowledgement that marijuana is not a dangerous drug that should be outlawed, but rather a very powerful natural healing tool that should be made available to every person who can benefit from it.
Let’s hope the Trump administration takes notice of Israel’s sane approach to the marijuana issue. If the White House makes good on its threats to begin pursuing the enforcement of federal marijuana laws, then the entire nation loses.