Vote favors decriminalizing recreational use, with PM Netanyahu saying the move needs to be done in a careful and controlled method.
• New law imposes only fines for 1st & 2nd-time offenders, but growing & selling marijuana will remain criminal offenses.
By Shlomo Cesana
The Israeli government voted on Sunday in favor of decriminalizing recreational marijuana use, joining some U.S. states and European countries that have adopted a similar approach.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet at its weekly meeting Sunday that a team of experts had studied the matter and that “this obviously needs to be done in a careful and controlled manner.”
“On 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,” he said.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) said that “the government vote is an important step toward implementing the new policy, which will place the emphasis on awareness and treatment rather than criminal enforcement.”
Erdan’s policy involves imposing fines on repeat offenders rather than launching criminal proceedings. The policy calls for a 1,000 shekel ($270) fine for first-time offenders, and double that for a second offense. A third offense would warrant a police investigation and a fourth offense would result in criminal proceedings.
Selling and growing marijuana would remain criminal offenses in Israel. The policy for minors will be discussed separately.
In the United States, 28 states have legalized marijuana for medical use, and since 2012, several have also approved marijuana for recreational use.
Marijuana use is fairly common in Israel. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has said that almost 9% of Israelis use cannabis, though some Israeli experts believe the percentage is higher.
Israeli police figures showed only 188 people were arrested in 2015 for recreational use of marijuana, a 56% drop since 2010, and many of those apprehended were never charged.
About 25,000 people have permits to use the drug for medicinal purposes. Israel is one of the world’s leaders in medical marijuana research.
In February, a government committee gave an initial nod for the export of medical cannabis, though final legislative measures will likely take months.
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