With a vote on a new bill this week in the Knesset, Israel could soon decriminalize marijuana. The Knesset is Israel’s legislative body.
It voted unanimously to pass the bill on its first reading on March 7. Two more successful votes are required for the measure to become law.
The law changes penalties for those caught possessing cannabis in public. Fines would replace jail time for most offenses.
Public Security and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan leads the effort to pass the bill.
He said that the goal of the bill is to “reduce the harms of drug usage regularly but avoid as much as possible the criminal stigmatization of average citizens,” according to media reports.
Tamar Zandberg is a Member of the Knesset from the Meretz Party. She supports complete legalization of marijuana in Israel. She said the bill is a step in that direction.
“The law is far from perfect, but it’s a foot in the door on the way to full legalization. There is a lot of work ahead,” Zandberg said.
Better Than Jail
Although better than spending time behind bars, the fines proposed aren’t nominal. Adults caught possessing marijuana the first time would be subject to a fine of 1,000 shekels (about $300 US).
The fine doubles for a second offense. Third-time offenders would be subject to time on probation.
Fourth and subsequent violations would result in criminal prosecution.
Minors caught with pot would be required to attend a rehab program. Those that refuse would face prosecution instead.
Pot’s Popularity in Israel
Israel has a significant marijuana culture. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reports that nine percent of Israelis use cannabis in the country of 8,000,000 people.
Additionally, about 25,000 have received a license from the government to use pot medicinally.
On April 20 of last year, hundreds of activists staged a “Big Bong Night” protest outside the Knesset. The sit-down demonstration included music, food, and pot, of course.
A mass smokeout was held at 4:20 P.M. Police allowed the protest to proceed without interference.
Participant Itamar Yitzhakov told reporters the gathering promotes camaraderie in the cannabis community.
“Once a year we celebrate cannabis day. We forget all our troubles, gather here—all the brothers who smoke—and we bond,” he said.
International Support For The Bill
Niamh Eastwood is the executive director of Release, a British drug policy reform organization. She told reporters that the move by Israel continues an international trend for cannabis.
“This is a pragmatic and evidence-based move by the Israeli parliament. Across the world 26 countries have ended criminal sanctions for either possession of all drugs or for cannabis, none experienced an increase in use as a result of the reforms,” she said.
“More importantly, many jurisdictions including Portugal and several states in Australia reported better health, social and economic outcomes, as well as a reduction in reoffending.”
Final Hit: Israel Could Soon Decriminalize Marijuana
The decriminalization bill isn’t the only action on cannabis reform in Israel recently.
In February, a measure that would permit the export of medical marijuana also passed a first reading in the Knesset.