The Israeli government voted earlier this month to decriminalize recreational marijuana, Reuters reports. The new policy, which still needs to be ratified by Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, will replace the punishment for public marijuana use of arrest and prosecution with a fine.
“On the one hand we are opening ourselves up to the future. On the other hand, we understand the dangers and will try to balance the two,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet.
The new rules, drafted by Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Public Security Minister, make public marijuana use susceptible to a fine of about $270. Fines would rise with repeated offenses until the fourth offense when the suspect could face criminal prosecution. First-time offenders would not have their offense appear on their criminal record.
“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,” Erdan said in response to the cabinet’s vote.
Prior to the new law, marijuana use offenses were punishable by incarceration and heavy fines. According to Reuters, however, law enforcement typically turn a blind eye to marijuana use and just 188 people were arrested for marijuana use in 2015, a 56 percent drop since 2010.
Israel had been at the forefront of research into cannabis and marijuana is widely used both recreationally and medicinally. About 25,000 Israelis hold permits to use medical marijuana and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has said that nearly nine percent of Israelis use cannabis. Under the new policy, growing and selling marijuana would remain illegal.
“This is an important step, but it’s not the end of the road,” said Tamar Zandberg, member of the Meretz Party and chairwoman of the Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse. “It’s a message that millions of Israeli’s who consume cannabis are not criminals.”
Israel’s move to loosen marijuana laws comes at a time when marijuana policy changes are occurring in many U.S. states, Canada, and several other international countries. Eight American states passed marijuana measures in last November’s election, and now a total of eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana and 28 allow cannabis use for medical purposes. Legislative developments have been made recently in Australia, Ireland, Germany, and Turkey.
“Whether one supports use of cannabis or is opposed, it is wrong to judge cannabis users per criminal law and its derivatives. The State of Israel cannot turn a blind eye in light of changes worldwide regarding cannabis consumption and effect,” Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said, in a statement. He added that Israeli authorities would place focus primarily on educating about the possible adverse effects of drug use.
“This step, although not legitimizing use, is due to reduce the negative perception of the plant as ‘immoral or criminal’, increasing openness to its outstanding medicinal and wellness properties,” said Saul Kaye, CEO of the cannabis venture fund and entrepreneurship incubator iCan.