Israel Police Chief: Time to Rethink Marijuana Policy

‘More and more people demand the legalization of the use of cannabis in one way or another,’ Yohanan Danino says.

Olivier Fitoussi

Outgoing Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino said Wednesday the police should reconsider their position on marijuana and support legalization “in one way or another.”

“I think it’s time the police and state reexamined their traditional attitude,” Danino said, speaking to high school students in Beit Shemesh near Jerusalem. As Danino put it, “More and more people demand the legalization of the use of cannabis in one way or another.”

“The police have refused for many years,” he said. “Knesset members who have just been elected have asked me what the police’s position is today, and they were surprised to hear it.”

Some 20,000 Israelis have permits to use medical cannabis, he noted.

Later in the day, however, Danino was more cautious, saying that abroad it was too easy to pay money and receive a prescription.

Be'er Sheva municipality

“Overseas they pay $50 to someone in a white coat for a prescription. I don’t want to be there . The Amsterdam commissioner told me they went too far and were looking for the middle ground,” Danino said in a talk at Netanya Academic College. “The police must sit down with ministries and other bodies and study the issue.”

In 2012, the police opened 22,895 cases for drug possession for personal use; 5,254 people were indicted. That year there were only 2,226 indictments for drug dealing or importing or exporting drugs. There were 313 indictments for growing or producing drugs.

In 2013, the police opened 23,376 cases for personal use, some of them against celebrities such as actors Yehuda Levi and Keren Mor. The police encouraged media stories on both of those high-profile arrests.

The Public Defender’s Office, Knesset members and judges have castigated the police for their hard line on light-drug users during Danino’s term as commissioner, which began in May 2011. Judges have complained when first-time users were prosecuted for charges involving less than one gram.

Judge Yael Aviram-Katvan described as trivial the indicting of a man for possessing less than one gram of marijuana. “He leads a normal life and has been working for the same company for years,” she said.

“I rule that the defendant not be held criminally responsible . The ruling on this trivial issue is in keeping with the public interest.”

Menachem Mazuz, who was attorney general from 2004 to 2010, has told Haaretz that he strove to “synchronize the police with the prosecution” on the issue.

“The police had all kinds of work plans that had nothing to do with the prosecution. Some police districts had a policy of enforcing certain offenses that the prosecution thought were unimportant, and vice versa,” he said.

“I issued instructions not to deal with light drugs for personal use. It doesn’t pay off, either on the level of the individual or because of wasting enforcement resources.”