Cannabis Decriminalization Bill Being Considered in Israel

Cannabis Decriminalization Bill Being Considered in Israel

Medical marijuana has been legal in Israel since the early 1990s, and now lawmakers are considering legislation to decriminalize the possession and use of personal amounts of recreational cannabis.

Already having one of the highest rates of legal medical marijuana use in the world, Israel appears poised to take cannabis reform a step further as a number of lawmakers have recently expressed support for the decriminalization of private, responsible use of the plant.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the cannabis debate in Israel is the diversity of voices calling for reform. Freshman Knesset member, Yinon Magal, of the right-leaning Jewish Home party, introduced a bill that would allow citizens to possess and use small amounts of cannabis recreationally. Knesset members from six other parties spanning the political spectrum in Israel have endorsed the legislation. Two more ultra-orthodox groups are undecided, but considering it. In May, a number of Knesset members from various parties marched in a pro-legalization rally in Tel Aviv.

Though the motivations for supporting cannabis reform may vary from one group to the next, unifying themes among reformists are pragmatic, and ethical concerns have been voiced about using state resources to punish law-abiding citizens who also use marijuana.

Magal said of his bill:

“This is first and foremost a social proposal meant for youngsters from lower socioeconomic backgrounds that were arrested for a grain of cannabis, spent a night in jail with crooks, and may [subsequently] fall into the world of crime.”

Israel’s police chief, Yohanan Danino, recently expressed the opinion that enforcing laws against private use of cannabis was a poor use of resources, saying that he “does not care about individuals smoking joints on their balconies.”

Though Magal’s bill is yet to be voted on, Knesset member Tamar Zandberg, member of the left-leaning Meretz party, said of the debate surrounding cannabis use:

“The public has progressed and understands marijuana consumers are normal citizens who do not harm anyone, and there is no reason to persecute and incriminate them.”

On the right, former Likud party member Moshe Feiglin said:

“We need to step out of this fear and make this a country of freedom.”

This demonstrations that the topic of cannabis reform has the power to forge unusual alliances among politicians, allowing a degree of bipartisan accord unthinkable for other issues.

National Police Chief of Israel Supports Cannabis Policy Reform

National Police Chief of Israel Supports Cannabis Policy Reform

Israel’s National Police Chief, Yohanan Danino, is urging government and law enforcement officials to reconsider the country’s prohibition of cannabis by asking that they take a closer look at how the legalization process has gone in other countries.

Danino (photo below) acknowledged his request for Israel to reconsider its current laws on cannabis, which currently state that its possession or sale is a criminal offense, during a speaking engagement at a Beit Shemesh high school. He noted a 2013 survey indicating that more than 20 percent of Israeli adults use marijuana recreationally, and that almost half of those users (46 percent) were in favor of legalizing the the plant for personal use.

YOHANAN DANINO

Danino’s sentiments echoed those he stated during an interview with Yisrael Hayom last year:

“I’m not concerned about somebody who’s rolling a joint on their balcony in this neighborhood or that.”

He explained,

I look at the dangerous drug addict, the one who robs and steals in order to get his fix.”

Supporters of legalization believe that law enforcement resources would be better spent on more serious criminal matters like acts of violence or theft.

In 2013, there were 23,312 Israelis charged with drug offenses for personal use of the plant, which was a rise of almost 300 arrests over the year prior. Israelis are also increasingly being charged with cannabis cultivation within the country’s borders. This is likely due to many factors including that obtaining it has become more difficult because of Egypt’s border fence and additional scrutiny from law enforcement.

It seems that the public, along with some officials, are ready for a change. Although the less-knowledgeable opponents argue that the physical and mental effects of marijuana could have negative effects on younger users. The one thing that many agree upon is their willingness to support medical marijuana if it is well regulated.

photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM via JPOST

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