Israeli Army Considers Easing Up on Soldiers Caught Smoking Marijuana

Soldiers caught using or possessing drugs, even on leave and only once, are currently prosecuted and, if convicted, given a criminal record - a much harsher policy than that of police toward civilians.

Olivier Fitoussi

Army policies regarding consumption of light drugs are being re-evaluated, with an eye toward softening them, by military prosecutors. Particular attention is being given to light drugs consumed off base. Haaretz has learned that the possibility of softening army attitudes towards soldiers who are caught using light drugs on a one-time basis in civilian settings is being considered. Prevailing opinion is that such cases should no longer be automatically and indiscriminately transferred to military courts for prosecution.

Other procedures are being examined that would allow soldiers caught using drugs to undergo rehabilitation and return to serve in their units, based on the nature of their service.

So far the IDF has treated soldiers found in possession of drugs harshly, even in cases of one-time use of drugs such as marijuana while on leave. According to military rules, any soldier caught using or possessing drugs, even on leave and only once, will be prosecuted and, if convicted, given a criminal record. Only after three and a half years can the soldier request a pardon from the country’s president to expunge his criminal record. This policy is in stark contrast to that pursued by police and civilian prosecutors, who deal lightly with first-time civilian users of soft drugs.

A hefty proportion of criminal prosecutions that reach military tribunals deal with drug offenses. According to army figures for 2014, 62 percent of all prosecutions that were unrelated to unauthorized absences or traffic offenses related to possession or consumption of drugs.

The military advocate general, Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni, said recently that there were no “sacred cows” in this area. He stated that the army cannot tolerate the consumption of banned substances that can affect the functioning of its soldiers during their service. Nevertheless, he did raise some questions regarding current policies. “The question is whether our past responses to this phenomenon are effective and relevant today. Are there other ways that are potentially more effective? Is it not better to channel all the resources that are put into contending with this problem into other important directions which currently receive poor attention with insufficient resources?” Efroni suggested a few months ago.

“In a situation in which we have to prioritize, perhaps enforcement should focus more on cases that have bearing on military service, rather than on cases that may be illegal but are not enforced by civilian authorities,” he said.

On the backdrop of a police team that is looking into policies relating to marijuana consumption, military authorities may also speed up their re-evaluation. The army spokesman did not respond to Haaretz’s question of whether the police re-evaluation would affect the examining of enforcement in the army.

According to top military prosecutor Col. Udi Ben-Eliezer, IDF soldiers need to be on constant alert and in top form, which is why the army has treated harshly and severely any soldier suspected of using drugs, even when this is off base. According to Dr Ido Magen, a biologist who studied the usage of marijuana in his doctoral thesis, this argument is irrelevant since the effects of the drug wear off within hours. In response to a letter sent by Magen to Ben-Eliezer last year, the latter stated that “the army is waging total war against the scourge of drugs among its soldiers.”

“The army considers its soldiers to be responsible,” says Magen. “It puts weapons in their hands and allows them to consume alcohol on weekends. If it allows that, believing that it doesn’t affect their functioning, this means that it’s OK, the army isn’t collapsing. Why then does it consider that smoking marijuana will affect them?”

He called on the army to leave law enforcement in cases of consuming drugs off base to civilian authorities. “If the police find a soldier smoking pot when he’s off duty, let them handle the issue. The army gives a harsher interpretation to civil law, and I don’t think there is any point in that.”